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It will be the Holidays soon. Many of you might have plans to spend the time with extended family or members you don’t see often. Do you worry about your child’s disabilities and “explaining” why you might have to care for your child with special needs differently? Below we have some suggestions on how you might make the communication journey easier for all concerned.

(1). It is important at this time to consider if you want to tell your child about his or her disability, particularly if the extended family visit is a new situation for them. It is best to not wait when discussing disability with your child. Additionally, empower them to explain about their disability themselves – an extended family setting would be a good opportunity for your child to practice self-advocacy.

(2). Consider describing your child’s habits, routines or needs without labeling the diagnosis (using the word “autism” for instance). For instance, “________ just needs to not be in such a noisy place right now, I am going to put these headphones on and that will help.”

(3). As much as possible, include your child in the discussion with your family members. For instance, ask child to explain why they need to put headphones now.

(4). Think about explaining that your child is “different” – for e.g. “_________ really loves presents but you will notice that he/she will not open them right away – he/she likes to put them aside and will open them later.”

(5). Do you need to disclose at all? It may be that the disabling conditions are not visible or evident enough to warrant a discussion. However, if you do need to disclose, disclose to the right person, someone you can be certain would understand and can step in and help if you need to disclose to additional family members.

(6). Remind family members that your expectations of your child’s behavior are the same as other children. The disability will not serve as an excuse for bad behavior. Consequences will be meted out in the same manner as other children.

(7). Overall when you talk to your family, present your child’s challenges as similar to how tall they are or the color of their eyes. The overarching message to your family should be that the disability is just a part of your child and does not define them

Make a Checklist!

The checklist below can serve as a reminder for parents/guardians of individuals with special health care needs on: (1) how to start a conversation with extended family, when necessary and (2) what else may need to be done to improve the Holiday experience. Simply click the picture to download the PDF

Checklist created in InDesign by OneOp Military Caregiving.


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