12 Things That Make Special Needs Families Different

As we start getting back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is), after the holidays, it’s a time for pondering and contemplation…  Over the 12 days of Christmas I offered 12 thoughts for families with children with special or additional needs, and they each serve as a useful reminder of some of what makes us all different, and how we cope. So, here’s my 12 thoughts all together, there could have been many more, but I hope you find them informative, helpful and possibly familiar! (You can also download the images and script used for #12DaysofAdditionalNeedsChristmas at the end of this blog post.)

#1 Sleep: On the First day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… memories of a lovely lie-in… they don’t happen very often for additional needs families!! Some children with additional needs can regularly struggle to get to sleep, be awake all night, or wake very early in the morning all year round not just on Christmas Day. It can be really hard for them and their families.

#2 Laughter: On the Second day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… hilarious laughter in his den… a sound not always heard by additional needs families!! Additional Needs families often hear many distressing sounds from their children; screams, shouts, crying… but sometimes we also hear laughter, a joyous sound to be cherished!

#3 Peace: On the Third day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… some chillout time as he relaxed… a rare moment of calm, cherished by additional needs families!! Being a parent of a child with additional needs is a 24/7 role; there is always something happening, something that needs doing, rarely a moment to catch breath. So, when those fleeting moments of peace arrive, they are a real blessing!

#4 Trips: On the Fourth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… a trip out with the family… not always an easy experience for additional needs families!! Trips out for additional needs families rarely ‘just happen’, they need lots of planning and preparation. Even then, things don’t always go to plan, so a successful family trip out is something to celebrate, and ‘success’ can look different for each family!

#5 Time: On the Fifth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… his willingness to spend time with me… savouring these moments is important for additional needs families!! Children with additional needs can crave quality time with family members just as much as any other child. Sometimes in the busyness of caring, we can forget the value of just spending time together, becoming lost in the moment.

#6 Communication: On the Sixth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… raucous belly laughs about something amusing him… additional needs families don’t always know what!! Additional Needs families aren’t always easily able to understand what their children are communicating to them, whether it is something positive or negative. We become detectives, looking for clues to help us, and our child, understand each other better.

#7 Overwhelmed: On the Seventh day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… a day spent in his bedroom… sometimes it can all get a bit overwhelming for additional needs families!! Sometimes for children with additional needs things can get a bit too much and they can become overwhelmed. At these times they may need to spend some chill time in their ‘safe space’ which can help them to regulate their feelings and restore a sense of calm.

#8 Shopping: On the Eighth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… a trip to the shops for groceries… these trips can’t just happen impulsively for additional needs families!! Additional Needs families need to do jobs like shopping for groceries, but these everyday tasks need thinking about. There can be many overwhelming sights, sounds, smells and crowds to deal with, and what to buy (or not to buy) can take careful negotiation!

#9 Routines: On the Ninth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… a day of routines and places we had to visit… routines are VERY important for additional needs families!! Periods like Christmas and New Year can be difficult for families as the normal routines are broken. Children with additional needs can find this incredibly hard as they rely on routines and predictability to be able to cope with life, so a return to these usual routines is welcomed.

#10 Food: On the Tenth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… a visit to our favourite café… food can be a key motivator for some children with additional needs!! For some children with additional needs food can be very important, either as a motivator, a way of bringing order to the day, or a means of control. Sensory input can be provided through different foods as well. Families often learn how to use food positively to help their child.

#11 Haircuts: On the Eleventh day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… having a haircut… sensory processing can make this traumatic for additional needs families! Some children with Additional Needs find having a haircut really hard due to the sensory issues that it causes. Families seek out barbers or hairdressers who are additional needs friendly (there are some!) or cut their child’s hair themselves, although both options can create great anxiety and sometimes meltdowns. 

#12 School: On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my additional needs son gave to me… thoughts of returning to school… after a holiday, this needs planning by additional needs families!! The return to school after a long holiday can be very difficult for children with additional needs. They need lots of help, resourcing and support to be able to successfully re-engage with their class, teaching staff, and fellow pupils. Families can use resources such as visual timetables to help their child cope better.

I hope these 12 thoughts help you realise that if you are struggling in one or many of these ways that you are not alone, there are plenty of us out there trying to cope in just the same ways. Support networks and information resources such as the Additional Needs Alliance (www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance) are there to help you connect with others, and to face these challenges with other parents who are on the same journey.


4th January 2019

Image rights:  © Author’s own

Download the images and accompanying script for #12DaysofAdditionalNeedsChristmas here:

#12 Days of Additional Needs Christmas

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