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.