Keeping Your Disabled Kids Safe and Happy this Holiday Season

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday filled with turkey, family, and joy…  Well, if you were raised by a decent family, have perfectly behaved children, no racist family you’d prefer not to sit near, and absolutely no trauma whatsoever.

But for the rest of us, the holiday season coming up can, and will be, hell.  So I’d like to take this moment to remind people of that very real and important saying: do not light yourself (or anyone else you love and cherish) on fire to keep others warm.

Family can be toxic, with mine as no exception. I remember when my oldest was little, and we were at a large family Thanksgiving, with the women dutifully in the kitchen preparing food, the men watching the football game, and my little Autistic son accidentally got in front of the TV.  One of the men made a “shoo” hand flap motion at him.

Kidlet was SO EXCITED that someone wanted to play the hand flap game, that he happy flapped back.  Cousin “shoo’d” again. Kidlet happy flapped back. Cousin starts screaming and yelling and says some REALLY ugly stuff I’ll spare the audience.

My point?

My son has not seen that side of the family since. And my younger two have not either. Because all three are Autistic and not a single person outside immediate family stood up for a happy flapping child who didn’t understand and ended up sobbing and devastated and confused. No child deserves that.

So I’m writing a run down of the basic holiday rules I’ve picked up in my 21 years of parenting.

#1- You don’t owe toxic family ANYTHING. If they’re toxic? Don’t set yourself on fire, don’t sacrifice your kids. Your kids know they aren’t loved by family and they deserve better.

#2 – Set boundaries and stand by them, especially if you are the one with the tiny ones. Is bedtime at 7?  Dinner better be served by 4:30, because yes, you ARE walking out the door at 5:45, because you have to travel and you have a bedtime routine and that matters. 

#3 – Your kid’s body, their rules. They make the boundary on if they want to hug Great Aunt Helen they haven’t seen in 10 months, so help script nice ways of saying no, and alternatives they might be more comfortable with. Do you want to wave? High five? Are you OK with blowing kisses? Etc. It’s extremely important not to let family break that boundary.

#4 – Have alternative entertainment including electronics, and be prepared to explain so your kid doesn’t have to.  Ask your hosts if they have a quiet space you can calm down in before things get bad, and be prepared to navigate any cousin squabbles without waving the “but they’re autistic” flag because it’s not OK to disclose disability to their peers without permission.

#5- And last but not least, have your own script for a hasty, earlier than planned departure if anyone in the party feels it’s needed.  Don’t stay out of social obligation. Your own needs and your kids’ needs are paramount.  

Good luck this holiday season, may we all get through it with as few meltdowns as possible.