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Mary Ellen BarrettEveryday Miracles
by Mary Ellen Barrett


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Make Christmas Merry For Everyone

The Advent and Christmas seasons are a joy for most children. However a child with a neurological disorder may find the whole season painful, stressful and confusing. There are, however, a few things that you can do to help make the season more enjoyable for everyone.

First, consider keeping to your accustomed schedule as much as possible. Keeping meals and bedtimes a steady point in your child’s day will provide a great deal of comfort to him in the coming weeks. It will also prevent crankiness or outbursts made more severe by hunger and fatigue.

Avoid crowds. Impossible as it may seem this can be done. A child with sensory issues finds crowds painful in the extreme. Their brains are just not wired to process the barrage of information that is produced by a glaringly lit, noisy, bumping-into-people, music-piped-in mall. If it is necessary to bring your child to a mall or shopping center then try to pick an off hour time to go, later in the morning and mid-afternoon while many people are working are less busy in most stores. Try offering to babysit for a friend while she runs some errands and arrange for her to help you out in the same way. If all else fails internet shopping is really the least stressful on everyone.

When holiday celebrations become stressful for your child it’s a good idea to have a place where they can retreat for a while and calm down. Some down time can make the world of difference in how the rest of the day goes. If you are hosting a party or gathering make the bedrooms off-limits and let your child go there to calm down if needed. If you are at someone else’s house ask if there is a place for a mini-retreat. Even a small powder room is ok. Bring a small activity that your child finds soothing and let them at it for fifteen or twenty minutes.

Children with neurological problems have a hard time sitting still for any length of time. Make sure your hostess knows that your child will unlikely be able to sit through a long drawn-out dinner. Children’s tables aren’t always a good solution either since they are usually a source of cheerful mayhem that might exacerbate the problem. Ask if your child may sit with you and be excused as soon as he is finished eating. The revelry can continue just fine without him.

Eating can also be a problem. Eating is a multi-sensory experience. In other words, automatic overload. People, that don’t know any better, may think that you have no control of your child because of his behavior at the table when in fact, that child cannot bear the sensory experience of having spicy food near them, or the smell of an unfamiliar vegetable or even the clanking of a lot of silver and glassware. Swallowing is troublesome for many autistic people and can make for some unpleasant moments at the table. This may be perceived as rude by those who don’t know any better, especially if it’s a boy we’re talking about, but it is really a function of poor muscle control and underdeveloped motor skills. Not anything the child can control.

Let everyone know ahead of time that your little one has problems with certain types of clothing. Ask them to not buy the traditional outfit and expect it to be worn on the day. When grandma or auntie ignores you and gives you the outfit with the big bow or the itchy sweater or the turtle neck use all of the bribery you can, put it on take a picture and take it off. Then give it away to someone who can enjoy the darn thing. Bring the picture to the family event and declare how cute he looked and too bad you aren’t better organized about getting the laundry done so junior could wear it again today. If you can’t even get the picture taken just warmly thank the person for the lovely outfit and mention how nice they look that day. Distraction is a good tool when dealing with families.

Can you tell this has happened to me?

Remember when you are making your plans for celebrating this season that the best offense is a good defense. Try to make as many contingency plans as possible for every event. Walk through it first in your head and see where the triggers might occur and make a plan for these moments. Bring whatever toy, game, DVD or food that might help your child comfort himself and make it possible for him to have time for that.

Try to keep in mind that you have no control over how your child’s challenges are going to affect him during the course of the day. You also have no control over how other people are going to respond to these behaviors. What you do have control over is how you respond. This is why it is really helpful to ask the Blessed Mother to accompany you on all of your journeys. She knows that you are celebrating the birth of her Son and she wants you to enjoy yourself. There is the chance that you will be criticized or questioned. We always hope that people will be loving and charitable in their responses but it is not a child friendly world and people are particularly intolerant of children with disabilities. Try to respond charitably and kindly. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Many people just don’t know what your child goes through on a daily basis. What they see as spoiled is really a child responding to a world he finds impossible to deal with. A world that is full of sights, sounds and smells that are literally painful. When people are educated they are usually much more understanding and if they aren’t, hey you can always leave. There is no law saying you have to subject your child to anything that makes his life worse in the name of celebrating.

Keep your celebrations as simple as possible and your Christmas and New Year’s festivities will be just that, festive. Start each day with prayer and offer up each difficulty for the healing of your child. Keep in mind that it does get better. No matter how disabled your child is each day brings them a little more experience, a little more maturity and another opportunity to develop any skills they are lacking. If you think back to last year you will probably be able to call up a number of ways that your child has progressed and improved. Think of all the little milestones other parents can afford to take for granted and thank God for the gift of this miracle he entrusted to you. The Child whose birth we are celebrating came into the world and was not welcomed by anyone but his parents. He was different than other children and His mother suffered great sorrow. Keep her close to you – she understands.

Our Lady Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.

Mary Ellen BarrettMary Ellen Barrett is a home educating mother of seven children.  She writes a column for The Long Island Catholic called Life in Our Domestic Church and speaks at conferences about homeschooling and raising a special needs child. Mary Ellen writes about the daily life and happenings in her Catholic home on her weblog, Tales from the Bonny Blue House ( and about a Catholic celebration of Christmas at O Night Divine ( She is currently at work on a book about life as a mom of a large family and an Advent Book of Days.

© Mary Ellen Barrett 2007


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