Family Holidays - Asking the Right Questions

By Dan Coulter

What’s their secret? How do some parents of special needs children seem to sail through family holiday gatherings without feeling like they’re going to lose their hair or their minds?

I’m not talking about natural managers whose brains tell them the right thing to do in just about every situation. I’m talking about the rest of us.

One secret can be asking the right questions ahead of time. You may not know what you know until you organize it in your head and let your brain present you with solutions.

Here’s a list of questions you can ask yourself and others before a family holiday gathering:

  • Where is the gathering going to be held?

  • Would it be better for your child to hold it somewhere else, perhaps in your home, where he feels comfortable?

  • How have such gatherings affected your child in the past?

  • What can you do to minimize or eliminate triggers that could make him upset?

  • Who will attend the event and what are their individual needs?

  • What could you design into the event that would make it special in some way for each person there, so you’re not just asking everyone to accommodate your child?

  • How can you prepare your child for what he’s likely to encounter, such as Aunt Beth wanting to give him a hug?

  • What social skills could your child practice to prepare for the event?

  • What information could you share that could help extended family members know what to expect from your child and how best to react? (Perhaps Aunt Beth can be persuaded to offer a verbal hug instead of a physical hug.)

  • Could you prepare a letter or email that asks for input on other children who will attend as you provide information on your child?

  • Who are your natural allies? Who can you contact to help design and or influence the event so it’s a positive experience?

  • Can you enlist a cousin or other family member near your child’s age to be a mentor for the event?

  • How long will the event last?

  • If your child can only hold it together for so long in a group of people, should you consider only attending part of the event?

  • Can you sub-divide the event, so your child can participate in key social sections such as dinner, but retreat to a quiet place to play a video game before he becomes overwhelmed?

  • If your child has a special skill, such as playing a musical instrument, could you organize a children’s talent show that might help him look forward to the event?

  • If your child has a special diet, can you contact the host in advance and offer to bring your child’s food and coordinate incorporating it into meal plans?

  • Can you designate different members of your family to trade off keeping an eye out for potential problems so you can take turns just enjoying the event?

  • In case of a meltdown or pending meltdown, can you identify a room in advance that you can retreat to with your child to help him calm down?

  • Can you have everything you brought together and handy in case you need to leave in a hurry?

  • Can you bring favorite games or books on a long car trip and make frequent stops so your family isn’t stressed out when you arrive or as you return?

If you can prepare both your child and your extended family in ways that help make an event positive for everyone, you may just have your kinfolk looking at you and wondering what’s your secret.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of the video “Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Asperger Syndrome” and the book, “Life in the Asperger Lane.” You can find more articles and information on his website:

Copyright 2012 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used by Permission

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