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Consider the needs of people with disabilities during the holidays

As nostalgic and delightful as the holiday season is, it can provoke problems for people for a variety of reasons.

For some kids and adults with disabilities, certain aspects of the season are difficult. Fortunately, there are things that people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, and friends and family members without disabilities can do to make the holiday season more enjoyable for us all. While far from exhaustive, I thought I’d share a list of some of the steps we can take to be more inclusive.

  • Check your menu. We’ve all grown more accustomed to considering food preferences, but what can be a mild annoyance for some may lead to major medical issues in others. If you are hosting a party, check in with guests to see if there are any food sensitivities. If you or your child has sensitivities, bring along some safe foods, just in case.
  • Don’t feel like you must do everything. There can be a lot of pressure to do certain activities during the holidays, but consider the needs of disabled family members when you decide which pressures to give into. You may be able to arrange things at a gathering of close family to be calm and quiet, but that large gathering of friends and family may be out of your control. A disabled family member may be happier skipping the entire event than being forced into a tormenting situation under a misguided assumption that they don’t want to feel left out.
  • Reduce sensory overload. Those flashing lights and strobe effects on your Christmas tree can bring on seizures and other neurological response. Set your lights to the steady mode or replace the bulbs that create the blinking. Keep background noise to a minimum, which includes not only background music, but also fans, motors, and other mechanical buzzes and hums that can be excruciating for someone with sensory sensitivities.
  • Plan around seeing the red-clad fat man. We’ve all seen enough creepy depictions of Santa Claus (including the iconic department store Santa in “A Christmas Story”) to understand Santa isn’t for everyone. Some kids are fans of the jolly old elf but not of the crowds that often surround him. If this is the case, you may be able to schedule a private or smaller group visit. Some malls and department stores have begun to understand the needs of neurodivergent kids and are arranging Santa visits particularly for kids who can’t tolerate those crowds.

The bottom line is that Santa, parties and lights are not the focus of the season. The best advice I can give is to center the aspects of the season that are truly valuable to you: religious celebration, time with family, the spirit of giving. Try to construct your time and attention around your values, and you will improve the chances that the whole family will find joy in the season.

Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.