The holiday season is quite possibly the most stressful time of the year for families with autistic and special needs children. The change in routine, decorations, noise and music and extra people in the house visiting can easily overwhelm a special needs child or adult and cause behaviors ranging from increased stimming and/or echolalia to violent outbursts and even property destruction. Special needs families are often prisoners in their own homes during the holidays, as they cannot go anywhere that might upset their loved ones’ schedules.
The stress a special needs family goes through during the next few months is indeed difficult and upsetting. Now, let’s go into the darker world of the holidays with a special needs family member. If you care for a special needs child/loved one, you may be shunned and not invited to family gatherings due to embarrassment and ignorance. You may be unable to decorate your own home if the change in environment upsets your loved one too greatly.
But the true pain felt by the special needs community during these festive months is financial. Often on fixed incomes or one-income households due to needing one parent constantly available for care, medical appointments and therapy, the added expenses of the colder months when the heat is usually turned on, additional groceries for the holiday dinner, buying unnecessary presents for too many people based on society’s expectations, and all the while truly needing to purchase warm winter clothing/boots/hats in this year’s sizes for their loved one. Or a new therapy item. Or to fill a small corner with sensory items recommended by the therapist.
I know that feeling. Our family applied for food bank help a week or so ago only to find it closed for the next two weeks. In addition, many families like ours have difficulty receiving help from food banks due to dietary restrictions which are wide-spread in our demographic. I don’t qualify for medical or dental help since my divorce isn’t final. My children have been making due in summer clothing far too long, and the looks on their faces when they put it on and intentionally don’t complain lances my heart in horrible pain. We’ve stretched groceries farther than I ever thought they could be. None of us ever want to see beans and rice again, a wish I’m quite sure won’t come true. I’d give anything to have funds to get the iTouch devices and behavioral apps that the therapist recommended as they make real progress when they have help dealing with not only the autism and bipolarism but especially the ADD/ADHD. Instead, I will pray I can get her new socks, underwear, gloves and a hat for this winter already forecast to be harsh and snowy. My budget for groceries, medical copays and medication next week is so small that I cried when I saw it in print.
What I have not discussed is what will sustain and shelter the special needs community during these challenging plateaus that define our lives, amazingly most often it’s ourselves … which is both shocking and very comphrehendable. We are, by definition, a group who cares for another person(s) so deeply in our DNA that it makes entire sense that those of us who can spare a bag of last year’s clothing or a bag of veggies from the garden do so, quietly and with great love. After wandering lost for many years, I have finally been inducted into the fellowship of these beautiful, angelic creatures. I will not speak of their identities or their gifts to me as that was their wish. But I will tell you what they said before they lifted into the air, wings fluttering and the air all astir, “I’m only paying forward. One day, if you can, pay it forward, too.”
It’s going to be a long, cold winter for a soon-to-be single mother of an autistic son and a special needs daughter. I am very much aware of that. I also know that winged creatures know my address. If you can help a family with a special needs child/loved one, please do. A box of groceries, a gift certificate, shoveling the snow from their drive. Be an Angel. We all should from time to time.
Jodi Hobbs is a soon-to-be single mother who homeschools her Asperger son and special needs daughter while the two service dogs-in-training, the cat and the fish all laugh. You can find her blog at www.throughthehardtimesandthegood.blogspot.org. She is a regular contributor to www.Dandelionmoms.com. Her Facebook page is: I did not sign up for this Special Needs Parenting. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.