Holiday Meals and Families with Special Needs

Holiday Meals and Families with Special Needs

Parents of children with special needs often find themselves feeling pressured to explain or apologize for their child’s behavior around the holiday dinner table. Maybe your child is a picky eater or prone to outbursts. This may cause tension if your host takes it personally, but there are ways to make the meal enjoyable for you, your child, and your family and friends.

If your child happens to be hypersensitive to smells, Dawn Villarreal, President of One Place for Special Needs, suggests rehearsing ways to verbalize this ahead of time. Instead of saying, “this food stinks,” it might be good to practice saying, “The smell of this food is too much for me.”

For the child who has trouble sitting still at the table, the problem may have to do with the fact that the child’s feet are not touching the floor. If this is the case, Villarreal offers up the solution of placing a plastic storage bin under his or her feet. It can also be useful to bring something visually stimulating, such as a toy or a book, for the child to look at while eating.

Children who are nonverbal may be prone to making loud noises and startling relatives who are not accustomed to it. It is best to educate everyone ahead of time about your child’s condition and to help them understand that this is his or her way of expressing joy at being with everyone. If the activity around the holiday table is overwhelming for your child, it might be helpful to prepare a quiet area for the child to play during the meal. Music, such as on an iPod, or books and drawing materials can assist in calming your child without having to completely distance him or her from the rest of the guests.

It may benefit parents of slow or picky eaters to feed their children ahead of time. For slow eaters, even eating one food item that is ready in advance will help to balance out the time when sitting down to the full meal. Parents who tube feed their children may want to ask their child if watching others eat is too difficult for them. If you typically tube feed your child at the dinner table, ask relatives if it makes them uncomfortable. In some cases it may be a good idea to feed your child ahead of time or arrive a bit later to skip the dinner portion of the holiday gathering.

To read more about Dawn Villarreal’s holiday tips for families who have children with special needs, click here.

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