Holiday Stress Busters for Parents of Autistic Children
One of the happiest – and most stressful – times of the year is right around the corner. Although the Holidays are known as the time of the year when families get together to catch up, dine and tell one another how much they care for each other, the Holidays also bring cramped parking at the malls, endless shopping to find the best deals on the hottest toys and trying to find the time to clean and decorate the house before out-of-town family arrives. Oh, did I forget to mention sleep?
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas can provide memories that last a lifetime, but, if your life is already stressful, the Holidays can become overwhelming.
In honor of the upcoming holiday season, I’d like to take this opportunity to give parents of autistic children a few ideas to beat seasonal stress.
· The Holidays are a time of marvels and sensations. Connect to your sense of wonder. Does your child find peace in the tranquility of looking at holiday lights? Try the Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens where kids can walk quietly to admire the light displays if they need time for inner reflection or can run through the gardens if they need physical activity to regulate themselves. This family favorite can be as quiet or as loud as your child needs. Let’s face it. If your children are happy and having fun, you’ll be less stressed and can take time to enjoy the seasonal lights too.
· Keep track of holiday schedules. Families’ day-to-day schedules are hectic, but adding holiday recitals, family dinners and school parties can be stressful for everyone. Keep a calendar displaying events for each family member. This will help children to mentally prepare for the outing and will also help you limit activities. If your calendar is becoming too much to handle for you and your child, don’t feel guilty about declining invitations. Instead of trying to pack three parties into one day, clear your schedule for a night and stay home to play a family game or watch a movie. Nothing can help you feel better about your family’s holiday season than to watch America’s favorite, dysfunctional family, the Griswalds, in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
· Know that you’re not alone. Many families of autistic children find that speaking to parents of other special needs children gives them much needed support and a sounding wall for ideas. Check out these organizations that offer family services and support groups – Autism Speaks, The Autism Society of America, The National Autism Center and the National Autism Association. Additionally, visit these resources on Facebook to learn about community events, family meet-ups in your area or share your personal experiences – AutMont, Autism Discussion Page, Autism Sparks, Autism: Different, Not Less and Autism Awareness. If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, join this great parent group – Maryland Moms of Autistic Children.
· Define success for your family. Every family doesn’t have to have a Martha Stewart holiday season with a perfectly trimmed tree, beautiful buffet centerpieces and songs happily sung by an open fire. Don’t place undue stress on yourself and your family by trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that you place upon yourself. As long as your family has fun and shares a few laughs, the Holidays will be a great success!
I want to wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season. And, I hope you join me at this blog for lively discussions and ideas to bring fun and happiness to your families.
For additional resources for special needs families, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.