My nephew Rocco will be running to see what is under the Christmas tree soon. But, Rocco is unlike most 7-year-old boys in other ways. Rocco is affected with mild to moderate autism and has ADHD. I’ve learned relatives can help make holidays pleasant for children with special needs they love.
Check with nonprofits, parks and recreation centers for events for kids with special needs. Many malls and activity centers offer sensory friendly visits with Santa and other activities specifically for those with special needs. However, don’t overwhelm the child with holiday activities and try to keep your child’s schedule as consistent as possible
Don’t underestimate children with special needs. Rocco knows all his families’ addresses, phone numbers and some license plates numbers. He counts by 2s, 3s, 4s and backwards easily. Get children with special needs excited for the holidays by letting them help make and put up decorations, letting people who come into the area know the child helped with them. Allow the child to help prepare meals and desserts when possible, or have the child hand out a goodie bags to everyone at your holiday gathering.
Rocco communicates easily through singing. He adores Bruno Mars and Christmas carols. Play Christmas music and sing along with your special child!
A room filled with people the child does not normally see can be nerve wrecking for him or her. Rocco often asks to take walks by saying “Do you want to take a walk?” A short walk with you could be a perfect opportunity for a child with special needs to destress during a long holiday gathering. Also, Play-dough is Rocco’s favorite and gets him focused on being creative, instead of on any social anxiety he may be experiencing.
My sister asked the family to get the Buddy Talk or Family Talk game for Rocco this Christmas. Both games include cards with questions on them. Family Talk can be played at the dinner table with the whole family the day of the holiday gathering, preferably with the person who communicates best with the child sitting next to him or her to paraphrase questions when needed. My mother, whom Rocco calls Nona, is a very special person in Rocco’s life. I suggest having a party with the child’s friends to play Buddy Talk. When the child answers the questions, not only will he or she be developing communications skills, but others can learn what the child is thinking and feeling. These games can be appreciated far after the holidays have passed.
Despite his challenges, Rocco is generally very happy, and usually laughing or smiling.
Rocco has hugged me at times so long it seemed he was never going to let go, and I know he knows I love him too and am always trying to think of ways to make all his days happier.
With a little extra thought and compassion from their families, Rocco and other children with special needs can create warm holiday memories for years to come!
Tanya Terry is a reporter for the View Newspapers. She can be reached at 810-452- 2645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.