In many households, holiday preparations focus on the cooking and cleaning and shopping and gifts – tiny details are magnified in order to make sure everything is a fun, memorable, meaningful, “perfect” time. Family heirlooms come out from behind glass. The silver is polished, linens are ironed, and the table is prepared with special holiday foods. The anticipation, both the excitement and the stress, is palpable.
Children bring an added dimension to the planning, preparation, and gathering.
“Will my child have a good time, participate, contribute, appreciate the significance of holiday?”
“What if my child spills on the fine linens?”
“What if my child misbehaves, has a melt-down and ‘ruins’ the celebration?”
For families with a child with special needs, all these concerns are significantly heightened. Consequently, the joy of holiday preparations can also include feelings of dread.
For many parents, the “what if …” scenarios become the focus of holiday preparations. increasing the stress and tension surrounding a day or a season that should be embraced for its spiritual meaning and tradition.
With Passover right around the corner, here are a few tips that can be applied to any holiday in any faith tradition:
- If you’re one of the planners, be sure to know who is coming and ask the parents if there is anything you can do to help welcome them and their child and include them in the celebration.
- This will help put your guests as ease just knowing you are planning to fully include them in the celebration.
- Focus on the message and the meaning of the holiday.
- By simplifying the message for the youngest participants and for those who need the extra support, you’ve created an opportunity for everyone to participate, and given older participants the opportunity to revisit their youth!
- Make your celebration interactive!
- Role playing can bring any celebration to life – especially if everyone gets to play a small part.
- Dollar stores and party stores are great resources for props and ideas.
- Help keep readers on track by placing cue cards and sticky-notes on selected pages and passages in a book.
- Even better, mark select passages with a highlighter.
- Consider using everyday dishes and utensils to decrease the tension about possible breakage.
- Family heirlooms can be used for buffet tables and dessert trays.
- Plan some down time, or create a “quiet” room, for participants who may need to calm down after the stimulation and arousal of the celebration.
- If you are invited to be a guest in someone else’s home, take the initiative to call ahead and talk to the host or hostess to discuss plans.
- This will help you prepare your child, and yourself, to anticipate the “tone” of the celebration.
- Offer to help prepare some aspects of the celebration. That way, you can help make it even more inclusive and appropriate for your child, and specially tailored to the abilities of his or her special needs.
- Consult with your religious and educational leaders to ask for advice.
- Holidays have been celebrated for many generations. Perhaps they have some ideas or suggestions that can help you to embrace the significance of the celebration through simplicity.
- This type of conversation also gives your religious and educational leaders an opportunity to know all the members of the congregation and perhaps help plan for inclusive opportunities within the whole community.
Most importantly, know that you are not alone. For example, experts estimate that 1 in 100 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism; and 1 in 50 children are diagnosed with a cognitive special need. Even without those diagnoses, every family has a member or two who needs a little extra love and support to fully participate in family events. Enlist other family members – especially the children – to help embrace the celebration preparations.
At holiday time or anytime throughout the year, if you feel you feel you could use more focused, additional help and understanding, remember that Jewish Family Service staff members are available to provide strategic guidance and support to families just like yours! Call us today at 972.437.9950 or visit our website at www.JFSDallas.org .
Jewish Family Service—an open door to all those in need.