As our bodies adjust to the time change our minds start thinking about celebrating, and/or enduring, the spring holidays. The excitement and chaos of any holiday brings challenges along with joy to the parents of special needs kids.
I grew up with Easter but now celebrate Passover in my family. I converted to Judaism when I got married and honestly Easter is the only holiday I miss. I hope I can offer some useful tips on de-sensitizing some of the traditional festivities.
I may be using some vocabulary that is unfamiliar so I will offer links to definitions instead of verbose explanations.
Everyone has a vision of their children in their Sunday finest perched on the lap of the Easter Bunny. But even for typically developing children this can be a scary experience. Practicing is best. Sounds silly I know but showing your kids pictures of the Easter Bunny and walking through the experience with words and pictures is the best way to give them a heads up, and to let you know what issues could arise. Finding a low traffic time to visit the bunny at the mall, and of course offering a treat as soon as they slide off his lap will sweeten the deal, and give the Grandparents a picture worth framing.
Easter Egg Dyeing:
Even an hard-boiled egg can be fragile in the hands of a child with a deficit in fine motor skills. When I was a child we just had the dyes and that thin metal tool used to hold the egg as we dipped into the colored water. And my mother added apple cider vinegar to the dyes to help them set better. That tool was hard to manage and I can't imagine using vinegar anywhere near my son with Sensory Processing Disorder. He has the sense of smell of a wolf and would recoil at that strong scent. There are so many great alternatives to dyes. Stickers, markers, a crayon used on a still warm egg. Or you can just use plastic eggs filling them with stickers and candy to avoid a choking incident.
Easter Egg Hunt:
This stresses me out just thinking about it! The noise, the scrambling about frantically, the competitiveness, it's a recipe for a world class meltdown. You are brave if you attempt a community egg hunt, but I suggest a fun hunt at home. How do you avoid the fights and disappointment over who found more eggs? Set aside an equal amount for each kid and write their initial on it with a Sharpie. Or one kid gets all the eggs with the red star stickers and their sibling gets the gold star sticker eggs. Hide them according to their skill level. My sons can't find an elephant in a phone booth but my daughter is more determined. For wheelchair bound children hiding eggs among table tops in plastic grass gives them an advantage. My grandfather would hide eggs as cleverly as he could and in mid July would find the ones we missed, he would just follow his nose. Trade the kids candy for their hard-boiled eggs and make deviled eggs to avoid misplaced stink bombs.
Easter Church Services:
While doing research for this article I found an excellent blog post about worshipping with your special needs child. Her suggestions and gentle words are fantastic and I really can't offer more without plagiarizing the author.
If you are unfamiliar with what a Seder is you can read the above link or I can give you a very brief definition. A Seder is a meal where you sit and read from a book called a Haggadah. Yes sitting with an ASD or ADHD child for more than an hour while you read from a book does sound awful doesn't it? But there are plenty of opportunities during the ritual to engage your child. When you first arrive, or if you are brave enough to be hosting, set aside a time that your child, all children present, can get their wiggles out. Weather permitting take them outside and run them, or have a room set aside for them to dance and move.
The Seder Table:
It is customary to set the table as beautiful as you can for Passover, but fine china and vases of flowers just don't mix with active children. This is when the holiday tradition of a kids table is of utmost importance. Target now carries lots of plastic Passover tableware.
Bitter herbs, horseradish roots, hard-boiled eggs, Gefilte fish are common on the Seder table. But these foods aren't popular with picky eaters. Putting some kid friendly snacks on the table for them to munch will keep them at the table longer. And having them sniff those strong foods ahead of time will help desensitize them to the ick factor.
Now that we are seated the real challenge begins, keeping them in their seat, or at least in the room so you can participate. Kid friendly Haggadahs do exist this is the one we use. Less words and more pictures, even the adults appreciate it. Twice during the ritual guests are asked to wash their hands, but instead of everyone getting up and rushing to the sinks, get your most active child to be the hand-washing representative. He can symbolically wash his hands for everyone. The story of the exodus has many exciting scenes that can be re-enacted by your energetic child. The parting of the sea, jumping like a frog, building a pyramid out of blocks. And if they are readers they of course can take turns reading with adult help.
Like Easter, Passover has a hide and seek tradition. This time it is with a matzoh instead of an egg. Hiding half of the broken matzoh according to your child's skill level is best to avoid a meltdown. Maybe a game of hot and cold to help them locate it can speed up the process.
Singing and Communal Prayer:
My son calls it creepy and loud. And my other son gets the giggles. Bringing ear plugs for the singing will dull down the volume, and lucky them maybe completely drown out their tone deaf Uncle. A week ahead of time, practicing the Passover songs will get more participation, instead of hiding under the table with their hands over their ears.
Whatever holiday you celebrate this season I hope these tips will help and I hope you have a wonderful time.