Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Holidays with Special Needs Family Members

A wonderful story from the National Down Syndrome Communicator!
Ahh...the holidays. Relaxing with family and friends. Great food and fellowship. Shopping for just the right gifts...


"AHH! The Holidays! How long are these relatives staying? Stop eating so much! I've never seen so much food in my life! Are you kidding me? I'm not going to the mall!"

The holiday season can provide some of the most joyful times in our lives, but they also undoubtedly can cause loads of stress. Is there anything we can do to make them less stressful? Planning and perspective. Here are some ideas: 
  1. Lower your expectations. No one really has a holiday that looks like a magazine photo shoot, with the possible exception of Martha Stewart. (And we suspect there's a little stress happening in that house, too.)
  2. Look at your calendar with the rest of your family and make realistic plans for shopping, baking and traveling. Say no to requests or events that put you over the edge.
  3. Be flexible. How often do things really go according to plan? Be ready to go with the flow.
  4. Ask for help. You can't be all things to all people all the time.
  5. Try to get enough sleep and exercise. It's good for you mentally and physically.
And how about for your family member with Down syndrome?
  1. Prepare for new places and new people by talking about where you'll be going and who you'll be seeing. Showing pictures will be helpful, too. "We're driving a long, long way to Aunt Peg's house. This is a picture of her dog named Molly. You'll be sleeping in a sleeping bag in your cousin Emma's room."
  2. Expect a disruption to normal routines, but try to keep to as many routines as practical. Especially when it comes to getting enough sleep and making healthy food choices. Too much sugar and too little sleep makes everyone miserable. (But, it is a holiday, so it's okay to ease up a little, right?)
  3. You know your child best - what can trigger a behavior problem or cause anxiety - so do your best to plan ahead to avoid those triggers.
  4. If you'll be seeing people who are unfamiliar with your child, educate them ahead of time, too. Let them know if there are safety concerns, sensory issues, or food allergies that could present a problem during a visit.
  5. Plan for alternate activities and enlist help from family and friends. If you know all of your relatives will want to go bowling, but the bowling alley is just too loud and chaotic, plan another activity for your child with Down syndrome. (A walk to the park with Uncle Jim? Hot chocolate at the coffee shop with Grandma?)
Planning ahead and preparing for both the expected and unexpected really does help. Enjoy these next few weeks as we wind down 2011. Take lots of photos and help create fun memories for your whole family!

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