Dealing with Changes in School Routines During the Holiday Season
Participation in holiday programs.
For parents of children with special needs, holiday programs and the rehearsals that come with them can be an interesting combination of awe-inspiring and awful. There are so many things to consider like will your child be overwhelmed by unfamiliar expectations? Will the teacher leading the program be familiar with your child’s needs? Is your child physically able to participate in the program? Is he going to be overexcited, uncomfortable or upset by the change in routine or being in close quarters with so many children, or, will he just be an unabashed stage hog who steals the show?
You may not be able to predict whether the show will go off without any hitches for your child or if it will be full of glitches, but there are some proactive measures you can take.
Clarify how your child is going to participate: Some children don’t have the staying power to make it through an entire program, especially if some of it means sitting or standing on risers while other classes perform. Have a conversation with your child’s team about how his needs will affect his participation. Maybe he can sit off to the side until it’s his classes’ turn to rehearse or perform. Perhaps it would help to sit near a teacher or on the very end where other kids do not crowd him. Involve your child in the conversation if possible.
Confirm that supports are in place: Whatever the plan is, make sure there’s an adult who knows it and will help put it into place. That may mean a paraprofessional is right near your child to provide subtle verbal or visual cues. It could mean somebody is available to help your child physically navigate the performance space. Just make sure both you and your child know who that person is.
Practice what is going to happen and what your child can expect: School rehearsals will help your child learn where to stand and what to say and sing. But children with special needs may need to rehearse the less obvious things, too. Give your child some time to wear and get used to his costume or dressy clothes. Talk to him about appropriate ways to interact with the audience—for example, practicing a smile and a nod instead of a huge wave and a shout-out.
Have an “escape” plan. In some cases, despite the best-laid plans, things may not go well. Keep on eye on your child’s stress level. If he’s anxious and overwhelmed or teachers are calling you in frustration, it might be time to have him bow out. As nice as it would be to see your child participate, it’s not worth watching him struggle, lose progress or jeopardize the relationships he’s built with his teachers.
Finding ways to minimize the impact of routine changes during the holiday season may help ease the post-holiday transition, too, making it feel like the New Year without feeling like a new school year all over again.
Amanda Morin, is an early intervention specialist, education writer, special education advocate and mother of two children with special needs. Her latest book, The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, aims to demystify the special education process and empower parents.
Photo courtesy © fivehanks, courtesy of Creative Commons
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