Nothing says obliterated schedules and sensory overload quite like the holiday season. While we imagine other families firing up their yule log and drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, we are at the absolute end of our stress ropes trying to figure out how we’re going to survive all the holiday events.
Whether you are just starting Hanukkah or are deep into the family gatherings phase of Christmas, one thing is common to most families like ours. It’s nearly impossible to control this chaos in our kids’ and family’s lives. We mostly just hope to help our kids manage and get through it as best they can, and then go home.
I just wanted to say a few things to you about this.
Originally, my wife and I had a strong desire to maintain all of our family holiday traditions, even with all the challenges of an autistic child and his needs. For us, the traditions and the needs clashed, and we had to make a decision. We chose to make it easier on our son. So after a couple of tries doing it the ‘old way,’ we instead decided to keep some of the previous traditions but otherwise start our own.
There’s no right way to handle this. All I can say is that you have permission to not push your child and yourself beyond your limits in order to satisfy existing traditions. You have to ask yourself whether it’s too much and too unfair to ask something of your child. And this is something only you can know after taking time to reflect.
You will reach the point where you have to make the tough decisions about how you are going to handle holidays from that point on. This is never easy. Everybody wants you to follow tradition or adhere to their holiday plans.
But your allegiance is now with your children and their needs, and your own immediate family. You have to make the decisions that are best for them and you. Sure there are techniques you can use to help your child through stressful and sensory-overloading situations, but again there comes a point where you have to ask yourself, Why are we putting ourselves through all this?
Again, I’m not telling you which events to go to and which to say no to, but I am telling you that you have permission to decide. Some will probably experience hurt feelings. Some will simply not understand why you can’t come or what the big deal is. Some may say things to you or behind your back. There may very well be some anger that lingers on a while that people will have to work through. There will be some awkward moments.
But those eventually will pass. If some don’t, you should ask yourself whether those people should be part of your life. You can make your case to family and friends that you are not putting your child and your family through all the overload, particularly when it causes lasting issues for your child that take days and weeks to recover from.
If you do go to an event, find a sensory-safe room where your child can take breaks from the noise and stimulation, and set aside time for breaks. Try to keep travel as low as you can, or split up travel and events you go to so you’re not cramming everything together.
If you don’t go to something, know that this is OK. Give yourself the grace to not feel guilty about it, at least as much as this is possible for you. Use this as an occasion to create new, simpler traditions. You’ll probably find these are much more meaningful in the long run.
Whatever you do, put your family and yourself first. You have a lot going on and many needs to manage. If this is hard for you, begin this year saying no to one or two events as a sort of practice. Then next year, add more. It may take time, but it’s a completely worthwhile effort.
Remember, you are doing this for your children and your family, your collective sanity and well-being. It’s OK to say ‘no’ to others so you can say ‘yes’ to your family.