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Words That Squeeze the (Special Needs) Parents’ Soul

By Kelly Hafer

By Kelly Hafer

There are very few words that are more frightening to me than “the Holiday Season is right around the corner.” Sends shivers down my spine, and leaves me dealing with PTSD from Holiday Seasons past.

For many of our families, the time from Halloween through just after New Years is not, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year. Instead it is 8 or 10 weeks of managing meltdowns caused by extreme over-stimulation by the weather changes, palpable excitement in the air, visiting family members, change in school and therapy schedules, decorations, different foods, twinkling lights, new experiences…need I go on? Because I can. I can go on and on and on. This time period is fraught with pitfalls for our children. And our entire families know it.

We want so badly to be able to give all of our children the experience of the holidays that they will look back on and treasure. We dress them up for Halloween and take them Trick-or-Treating. Through social stories and role playing we try to prepare our kids for the strobe lights, scary decorations, and talking to strangers – breaking the rules on that one, aren’t we? They squeal in delight as we pick out pumpkins and try to entice them to touch the gooey innards, mixing sensory work and play. We might throw their schedule off with an early dinner – gotta get ready to go! Hurry and eat! Let’s go! We make our rounds in a frenzy, try to get them into bed on time.

And the next day sucks. Hard.

From there, the serious holiday prep work starts. Cleaning for Thanksgiving guests, researching new dishes, cleaning, getting the Halloween decorations put away, moving the Hanukkah or Christmas decorations into a handy spot. There’s talk of travel, of gift buying, of upcoming events. And our kids – kids who society believes are in their own world and who are unresponsive or who do not pick up on social cues – are absorbing all of these emotions and thoughts like the sponges they are. Our kids sometimes feel and perceive too much. They know when changes are coming. For God’s sake, we can’t take a different route home from the grocery store without setting off their warning bells. The changes and stimuli associated with the Holidays are like fog horns, strobe lights and ambulance sirens all rolled into one.

Behavior issues pop up. Stims increase. Meltdowns – oh, God, I’ll stop. I don’t want to talk about the meltdowns.

I could tell you to be patient. I could explain sensory issues. I could reiterate how changes in schedule to our routine-driven kiddos makes them batty. But, you know it does. I know it does. Teachers, grandparents, hell, even the neighbors know that this time of the year is hard on our families.

My advice: plan now for respite breaks, and keep up with the therapy appointments as best you can. That means ABA during Winter Break instead of just loafing. You know that our kids don’t do well with loafing anyway. Just bite the bullet and schedule those 9am appointments. You know your BCBA won’t bat an eye when you answer in your pajamas (I mean yoga pants).

And whatever you do, don’t run out of booze.

Read more blogs by Kelly

Kelly Hafer

Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to four children: a 17-year-old neurotypical (if you can say that about a teenager!) daughter, 6- and 5-year-old boys on the spectrum; and, since life was getting a touch boring, another beautiful baby girl. Kelly is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Military Special Needs Network. MSNN is a peer-to-peer support organization founded to respond to the needs of all branches of the military and of our Exceptional Family Members. We strive to provide family and emotional support and lasting friendships – See more at:, or Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She manages the official blog of Military Special Needs Network,, and can be found as a guest blogger throughout the blog-iverse. You can contact her via email at

About Tidewater Parent Staff

One of our staff who provides news and information for families in Hampton Roads.

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