Friday, July 2, 2010

July 4th Preparations for Kids with Special Needs

It's a Holiday Weekend, "Woooooo Hooooo!"  Right?

Maybe, It's a holiday weekend, "OH NO!"

Ever stopped to think what life might be like if you had a child with special needs during a holiday weekend?

What if your child thrived on routine, a sense of structure, a calm atmosphere, and/or a predictable social script for every situation?

Now, throw in a holiday, especially one like July 4th.  July 4th is all fireworks, parades, fire truck sirens, and polka bands, candy, and swimming, and outdoor grilling, new smells from the neighbors' backyards, and cars lining your ever so quiet little road.

Here are a few tips to set your child up for success and enjoy the "holiday:"

1. Social Stories.  Set your child up for success by sharing with him, far in advance, the plan for the holiday.  If possible, share the information in short, understandable sentences or phrases with simple visuals.  Read the social story every day leading up to the holiday.  Your child will be more comfortable with the forewarning.

2. Food Options.  The menu at the picnic is hot dogs and potato salad but your daughter eats only pizza or chicken nuggets.  Bring your own food.  Why stress out over the food menu when you can simply prepare what you know your child will already eat?  If your hosts are offended, they simply do not understand your world.

3.  Bring at least one or two comforting and familiar 'toys' or objects that your child favors.  Optimally, you've already forewarned him that there would be a trampoline, many kids, and lots of taking turns, but, maybe in the moment, it was a little overwhelming.  Comfort him without a scene, then try the trampoline again later.

4.  Don't force it.  Your child is different.  Different IS NOT BAD.  Different is NOT WRONG.  Don't force her to participate in any new activity that she is uncomfortable with today.  Today is already a hard day.

5.  Provide for sensory needs.  If you know that your child hates loud noises, bring ear plugs or head phones.  If you know that the smells of candy will drive her crazy, bring an "If-Then" board (If you watch parade, then you eat candy).

6.  Skip the Live Fireworks.  Did you know that you can watch a lovely fireworks show from Times Square ON TV???  Sometimes adults put way to much emphasis on this tradition when, in reality, it's a dangerous tradition that is scary to both typically developing children and those with special needs.

7.  Use a visual (or object or written) schedule.  Show the plan for the day.  "First car, then grandma's house, then parade, then candy, then chicken nuggets, then trampoline, then home."  Show when each "task" has been completed.

8.  If it's too stressful, treat the day like any other summer day.  You can "celebrate" the 4th in your heart, and skip the picnics, parades, and razzle dazzle.  If you don't miss it, they certainly won't.

Happy 4th of July to you, in whatever way you choose to "celebrate." :)

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