Here are some ideas that have worked for us:
Gifts – I know for our son, Ben, who has little interest in toys, finding presents for him to open during the holidays is a challenge. The little voice in my head keeps saying, “What will Ben open? What will Ben get excited about?” Changing our expectations of Ben being excited about gifts helped quite a bit.
We ask grandparents to pay for tickets to the circus, which unexpectedly has become a tradition. Some of the best gifts for Ben are movie passes and gift cards for ice cream. These gifts become a one-on-one time with Mom or Dad, which can be extra special too. So we are patient, because Ben's face lights up when he sees the clowns at the circus, enters the parking lot at the movies or sits down in our local ice cream parlor.
Traditions - Create new traditions that work for your situation. Volunteer at a non-profit organization. You would be surprised how your child with special needs can help out, observe or just be a part of the hustle and bustle of holiday activity. Ben loves going places - so we go to McAdenville, a small town that lights up for the holiday season. We go on the "Polar Express" and holiday caroling with neighbors.
Foods – Your child may be on a special diet or allergic to certain foods or you might just have too much going on to cook a three course meal. An occassional holiday dinner delivered to your door in 30 minutes will be very memorable.
Change the Day – Sometimes you or a family member have to work on the exact date of the holiday or family cannot visit until the day after. Change the day – no one will know or care. Or if you have to work and need the extra day for traveling or cooking, change the day. When you look back at the photos, it will be the smiling faces that will matter, not the date on the calendar.
So this year, give yourself permission to do it differently, be imperfect and change it up. The most important thing is that you are with your family even if it is with frozen pizza, curlers in your hair and dirty dishes on the counter.
These are links to some great articles I found about stress, holidays and parenting:
10 Tips to Reduce Stress & Guilt
Take the Holidays in Stride
Enjoying the Holidays with an Autistic Child
Special Needs Siblings Have Special Needs, Too! (this last article is more about siblings of children with special needs. It is really good and I find myself thinking about how we interact at home in terms of this article's advice.)
BTW - This year, we are having a quiet Thanksgiving at home with just the five of us. And I am looking forward to pepperoni pizza for dinner and frozen apple pie for dessert, served on paper plates!