Here in the US, Thursday is Thanksgiving. A time of gathering, heads bowed in thankfulness, crisp fall leaves, warm pie, and total freak-out-mode for many parents who have kids with special needs.
Why the freak-out mode? Because too often, our friends and family members don’t understand our children. While acknowledging that they try, and that we love them, and that people usually mean well, things can get awkward pretty darn quickly.
Because of that, I’ve put together a few tips that you’re free to share with friends and family before going to their homes for turkey, or for when they plan to come to yours.
7 Things to Know about My Kid While we Eat or Don’t Eat Turkey:
- A lot of people in one room can get loud and overwhelming for our kids. If you see us sitting alone in the too-cold backyard, don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s us, and we’re not offended. We just need a break.
- If our child speaks too loudly, bangs into a wall, chews his shirt, or lies behind your sofa, he’s overwhelmed. He’s not misbehaving and I won’t discipline him for him recognizing that he needs a break. If that’s a problem, please tell us before we come over. We’ll be hurt, but that’s better than being made fun of in hushed voices in the kitchen.
- If you’re coming to my house, and I tell you that this is a peanut-free (or dairy-free, or gluten-free or whatever-free) environment, please don’t bring anything containing those ingredients, even it your side-dish or dessert won awards at the last pot-luck. Some of those ingredients could actually kill my child. We’re not just getting on a “gluten-free bandwagon,” he’s seriously affected by them and could die. Maybe invite me over another day when he’s in school or something and I’d be happy to praise your mad baking skills.
- Some of us have children who still drink a bottle, and you think they’re too old for it. Please don’t say anything. That may be his only form of nutrition, used for self-calming, or just something we choose to do. I’m not asking you about breastfeeding your grown alcoholic son when he was young, so don’t ask me about the bottle.
- If my kid eats nothing, don’t tell him to “just try it.” He may have feeding issues, sensory issues, or is simply overwhelmed. We promise that we’ll get him the nutrition he needs and that he’ll be just fine without ever “just trying” your famous pie, famous potatoes, famous gravy. Food isn’t easy for all of us.
- Don’t use the “R” word. EVER. If you’re thankful that my son lived, thank God for allowing him life and hope. He is how he is, without you trying to categorize him.
- Don’t ask us what’s wrong with him. Today is a day of thankfulness and remembering that each of us is different and amazing in our own ways. If you’ve got questions, we’re happy to answer them. In fact, we LOVE questions, and wish you would ask us if you’ve got them, rather than asking random family members who haven’t bothered to ask, either. We’re fine with sharing our special needs story. Just, maybe not at Thanksgiving dinner, where our kids can hear us talking about them.
Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. We hope that your homes and hearts are full of love, laughter, and family and friends who embrace you and your family rather than judge you. Who accept your children as they are, encourage them, and offer you a glass of wine when you need it most.
Do you have tips to share for friends and family hosting you and your child with special needs this Thanksgiving? If so, we’d love to hear from you!