If you haven’t already noticed, the holiday season is fast approaching.
For most of us, this is our favourite time of year. A time to kick back, catch up and end the year on a high. A time to be merry, social and busy, as we move from event to event.
As our calendars fill up and our days overflow with activities, it seems everyone is ready to enjoy the fun and frivolity of the festive season. And, for most of us, this is true.
However, for many families, especially special needs families, this is not always the case. As the invitations grow, so does the stress and anxiety of managing the varying needs of each member of their family.
I know this stress first hand. As much as I’d love to go to every party, I tend to decline more invites than I accept to protect my family’s health and wellbeing.
Crowds, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, strange people, new food, distracting lights and social anxiety all combine to make holiday festivities not so festive for my family. While we might be able to attend for a while, the sensory and social challenges of celebrations mean we tend to only last a couple of hours. It also means my kids can take days to recover afterwards.
If you would like to invite a special needs family to your holiday celebration, there are some simple changes you can make to ensure their experience is as positive and as inclusive as possible.
Try these 5 ideas to make your holiday celebrations more inclusive this year.
Provide a Designated Quiet Place
Setting aside a room for quiet time is a simple and effective way to support special needs families. This can be a bedroom, study or unused living area where kids can escape and calm down as needed. You could put on quiet music, a movie or provide puzzles, craft or toys in a quiet place. This can be a real lifesaver for families when things get tough.
Check Dietary Preferences & Requirements
One of the main challenges for special needs families in managing their child’s dietary preferences. Make it easier by consulting with them before the celebration to ensure there are options available for their child. The family may prefer to bring their own food or guide you on foods that will suit their child. This will go a long way to reducing stress on everyone.
Be Mindful of Sensory Overload
It’s impossible to know every sensory trigger but there are some general guidelines you can follow to reduce potential sensory overload. Keep music at a low level, reconsider pulsating and blinking lights, minimise overpowering smells and hang decorations up high, away from sensory seeking hands. Little things can make a big difference!
Accessibility is more than just making sure all parts of the venue can be accessed by all. It also means that activities and games are open to all participants, whatever their ability. It means making reasonable adjustments to ensure all guests can fully participate and have a great time. Look at your celebration through the eye of your guests to identify potential accessibility issues.
Don’t Pass Judgement…Ever
If you are surprised by the behaviour of a child or the way their parents handle this, keep it to yourself. Attending a social occasion is already a challenge for special needs families. Please don’t make it harder by passing judgement and making them feel worse. Keep your opinions to yourself and ask how you can help them instead.
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