Monday, December 29, 2008

Glad the Holidays Only Come Once a Year!

Hopefully you had yourself a merry little Christmas. We sure did! Let me tell you what Christmas was like in our house.

My oldest daughter and son-in-law had planned on coming home and spending the night on the evening before Christmas Eve. Thanks to the freezing rain and ice . . . this plan was changed. They arrived the evening of Christmas eve.

Now, my youngest daughter has some special needs. She has not been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, but exhibits many of the tendencies. Most days she is completely normal, except she has selective mutism. Which simply means that she can speak, but chooses when or when not to. She also has sensory processing or integration disorder, but she has a much better check on this. We have come so far with her that days like this I just feel like crawling under a rock, or going to my own island, or just plain going back to bed!

First off, Shayla has what I call "Santa-phobia." When you actually think about it, I think all people should have "Santa-phobia." After all, why do we teach our kids to not talk to strangers, not let strangers in our home, not take candy from strangers, etc. etc. Then we tell them that some weird looking fat man is going to come down their chimney in the middle of the night and bring them toys?!? We allow them to go to the mall (or wherever)to sit on that jolly man's lap and tell him what you want for Christmas. Wait a minute, here! I thought we don't talk to strangers! The whole Santa thing to me is weird! I don't remember ever buying into the whole story as a kid.

Ok, back to my Christmas story. So, Shayla is anticipating that Santa has come (or possibly is still here). She does not like surprises, she likes consistency. Consistency in our schedule is very important to her. We carefully explain everything to her on her level so she can understand. She does not want to come out of bed. That was her first tantrum!

We finally persuade her out of bed and we start opening stockings and gifts. All went fairly well when it was just our little family of four.

By the time my mom arrived with more gifts, we had just finished opening gifts and Shayla was ready to go play. I think we would have faired better if we would have allowed her a break to go play, but we just couldn't do that because it seemed, well, weird. She wanted to go and play with the new doll she got. But, we pushed her to open more gifts. *Insert tantrum number 2 here! She was clingy and fussy. She did not want to open her gifts and enlisted the help from Dad. She even went in another room to open one because she is so shy that she doesn't like people to see her feelings. (This is typical behavior for her. She always says, "Turn your head.") We coaxed her back in, she opened her gifts. Although she seemed very disinterested. All the while she was so uncomfortable. And because my mom is not "one of the core family members," meaning, she's not in contact with her on a daily basis, Shayla would not speak. Eventually she did start talking again, but it was uncomfortable for her.

By now Shayla has retreated to her room for a reprieve of the the confusion. She is in bed watching an old Barney video. The confusion level is too much for her! The sounds of all the voices, the Christmas carols that traditionally has to be played, the smells of foods she can not or will not eat, the lights on the tree, the messiness of opened presents, boxes, and wrapping paper everywhere. Now that I think about it. . . it's too much for me!

In the meantime, a family member tries to feed Shayla something that is not allowed in her diet. She is on a strict diet for food allergies. Thankfully, she refuses. She will not try any food that I or my husband do not give her. She remembers how bad she used to feel and doesn't want to feel that way again. I politely try to explain that our diet is not like a diet to loose weight. You can't turn it on again, off again. We do not ever cheat on this diet. It is medically necessary.

By now people like to "get Shayla going." They like to tease her into talking. A little teasing is fine, but they were saying they were going to take her puppies home. Her puppies are her most beloved things. Special needs children only see things in black and white. She thinks they are being serious. By this time she is not talking, she is SHRIEKING! *Insert tantrum 3 or 4 - honestly I have lost count! Come on adults, I call this bullying. (On another note, this is exactly why we homeschool, to shelter her from the bullying that we knew she would receive because of her differences - who needs it?)

Fast forward a few more hours, Cassandra and Michael finally arrive. Oh yeah, and cousin, Bryan, Morgan's boyfriend, and other Grandma. Are you keeping count? We now have 10 people in our 1500 sq. foot house! Anyway, Cassandra and Michael, have guess what, more presents to open! Shayla did not even finish opening these gifts (until the next day - after everyone had left)! She had had enough. Again, when each person arrives, she retreats back into the shell of being non-verbal again, until she feels comfortable enough to begin speaking or she forgets that she doesn't talk around others.

So, after a whole day of confusion and not being able to express her feelings, my youngest daughter, age 7-1/2 poops herself, not once, but TWICE!!! You can only imagine the words of wisdom from the relatives! UGH!!! No, this is not something she does regularly, it's because she's OVERSTIMULATED!!! She can't put her feelings into words yet. But, I don't even try to explain because people outside our immediate family don't understand.

Lessons learned from this Christmas:
  • Thank goodness it only happens once a year!
  • A one gift limit would be a great idea for Christmas to come. Both for budget and confusion! If others still don't understand this, maybe we'll allow her to open one a day, or one a month until she is done.
  • Our family of four will have our Christmas on another day from the rest of the family
  • I will make our next Christmas more simple - somehow!

As I write this, it sounds like I am ungrateful for my family and our many blessings. That's not what I want to portray at all. I just want to show you what it's like having a child with special needs. That even good things can turn out to be bad. I think simplicity is the key. I dearly love my whole family and they all have good intentions. I love spending time with each and every one of them.

We have been busy packing away all signs of Christmas. The tree is down, the decorations returned to the totes in the attic, the trash is cleared away, the toys are put away. I think I need a vacation after this vacation, or maybe I'm ready to delve back into the routine of homeschooling again. I don't know. Hopefully, we can enjoy a few days of quiet and "normal" this holiday season.

I tried to lead up to Christmas this year. We went to a live Nativity and to two different light shows. We went Christmas caroling to the elderly shut-ins of our church. We did lots of Christmas themed crafts and stories. I let her open a gift of a different Christmas book each day from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Does anyone have any suggestions for making holidays easier for special needs children? Or any children for that matter? Feel free to share your own Christmas tales.


Jennifer said...

It is so hard isn't it! Luke gets overstimulated too. I guess hind sight is 20/20, ya know? I am sure that you thought it was best to have people over to your house instead of going somewhere else, but I guess that didn't work out either. We all make mistakes like that, we have to live and learn. I try to anticipate my child's needs and capabilities ahead of time, but no one can plan for anything. And with special needs kids, you have no idea how they are going to react. It is hit or miss I believe. Sometimes they can handle opening presents, sometimes they can't. You have no way to know ahead of time. Sorry it was so rough! I hope Shayla is back to herself soon.

Amy@GrowingLikeTrees said...

I hear you -- my kids too get overstimulated. My husband's side of the family has 25 people and counting, and we all get together for Christmas in their 15 sq ft house. My kids used to just scream the entire time.

We have had good success with limiting gifts, with having a "quiet" room (which is only slightly less noisy) where only our immediate family is allowed (this is easier since it doubles as the breast-feeding room). it's also easier for us when we're not hosting. Is it possible for you to have the Christmas party elsewhere, and just go for a few hours?

Yes, I too and glad it's only once a year. Family is great, and we're getting much better at handling large groups. But it's still stressful.

Calina said...

UGH! Why do we do this to ourselves! I just don't think Christmas is supposed to be this way, you know? Everyone can't be "NORMAL." Besides, who wants to be "NORMAL?"

Jennifer and Amy, both of you asked if we could have the holidays somewhere else. We always host all the holidays. Because Shayla and my allergies are so extensive, we have made not only food adaptations, but many environmental adaptations. I mean there is literally nothing we can eat from a regular grocery store or restaurant we can eat (outside of meat, fruits and veggies.) If we forget something, it's back home we go! We can not be around carpet and certain ventilation systems aggravate our symptoms. Also certain cleaning products aggravate us. I'm thinking I need to explain all this later.)

On top of that, the stress of being someplace different would not go over well with Shayla. I would have worse behavioral problems. I'm sure she would not speak at all, (among other things!)

Amy, the quiet room sounds like a great idea. Shayla did retreat to our bedroom for awhile. She pulled the covers up to her chin, you could barely see her. She popped in an old Barney video and was probably de-stressing. BUT, since Shayla is the only child, she was quickly missed. You get the idea!

So, I guess we'll grin and bear it and be grateful it only happens once a year!