Ah December, it can be wacky and wonderful! If they’re like me, most parents and grandparents long for days when life in December was more about family traditions like playing in the snow or caroling, and less about shopping for a million gifts, or attending banquets and recitals. Just thinking about it all makes me want to slow down and take a breath.
With the holiday season quietly beckoning us all to be a little kinder, and stand a little taller, our hearts are touched when we see a family struggling with a child with a disability or special need. Showing children ways to reach out and get to know and serve people with special needs could be the highlight of this hectic month.
As a mom who knows, living with a child with Down syndrome in December is rough. Life during the other 11 months of the year is a complex balance of time, energy, and money, but December is even more multifaceted. The sugary sweets and extra obligations usually cause us all to backslide, like kids sledding down a snowy slope.
During our daughter’s difficult decade of extreme autism, a photograph of me on Christmas morning shows a big smile on my face — but my eyes reflect weariness, overwhelm and despair. Thankfully, our family found a variety of holistic ways to survive but it wasn’t quick, free, or easy. We were grateful for the small acts of kindness given along the way.
I encourage families who have loved ones with disabilities to be a little more honest about their needs, and graciously accept sincere offers to help. It’s OK. You need to avoid burnout.
Today, with shrinking budgets, let us set aside silly holiday obligations, and find meaningful ways to experience this glorious Christmas season. Here are a few ideas to reach out to families with special needs.
Shake Hands — Simply reach out and introduce yourself to a neighbor, an acquaintance in church, or at work that has a loved one with special needs. Just offering sincere words of kindness can mean a lot. (Afterward, remember to say the individual’s name when conversing. Don’t say, “…your blind boy.”)
Hand In Hand — If you feel like you can’t help with the disabled child, there may be other children in the home that could use special attention. Befriend them, and perhaps offer to take them with your children on an outing to see a movie or play mini golf. You might offer to drive this child in a carpool, when the parents can’t fulfill it, due to unexpected needs that arise in the home.
Lend a Hand — This family is likely stretched to their limits. You can offer to do something. Simple tasks, such as dropping off some dry cleaning, picking up a gallon of milk, or shoveling the snow off of their sidewalks can really make an impact on their heavy hearts and burdened schedules.
Pretty Hands — These dedicated mothers work hard changing soiled bedding, scrubbing out blood, and washing endless dishes. What a special treat to receive a coupon for a manicure. Small hugs help, too!
“High Fives” — Celebrate the seemingly small stuff, such as a goal that’s finally been met. There may not be a lot of big stuff to celebrate during this journey. Throw a banana-split party for toilet training.
Lift a Finger — Clip out edifying stories or magazine articles that are similar to their challenges and give it to them in a nice card. If you’ve seen a great movie that you think they would like, get it, or tell them about it.
Pen in Hand — With so much to learn about a new diagnosis or disorder, it would be helpful for any parent to have a friend or relative write down notes at a health appointment or training session.
Hold their Hand — These folks have to engage in some stressful meetings with schools, doctors and lawyers. They could probably use some moral support. Drive them, sit by them, or take them to lunch.
Hands Clasped Together — Worship services can be a valuable spiritual support, but there are families who simply can’t accommodate their loved ones there. If that time works for you, perhaps offer to have them attend while you “hang out” with their loved one, watching a holiday movie or playing a few favorite games together.
Make a Fist — Some things are worth fighting for, and require us to stand up and speak out. Because these special students are easy targets, “bullying” can be a real problem. (Even in adulthood, as well!) Sometimes a single mom just can’t fight one more battle with the school or a neighborhood kid that’s a troublemaker. Be a peacemaker, but first, discuss how to handle it — they’ll be forever grateful.
Holidays are wacky, so reach out and make them wonderful. Get to know some special folks, and you’ll be grateful you did. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim got it right: “God bless us, every one!”
Pearson is a Needs Preparedness Specialist who has advocated for persons with special needs for over 28 years. She resides in Northern Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org