I look forward to the holiday sensory overload to stimulate our daughter, who is now 20, and what better time of year than the holiday festival of lights season to do this? Our society certainly is not at any loss for how we celebrate this season of hope throughout December so we just bundle her up, load her wheelchair into the car, and set out to go on an adventure. Of course, not all children and adults with special needs can tolerate overloading the senses throughout the holidays. For some parents it's an absolute nightmare to take their children out into the community or places of worship due to some pretty heavy sensory issues.
There is a whole host of holidays beginning with Advent which is a celebration of spiritual renewal and preparation. Some of Elisabeth's friends celebrate Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Hanukkah we know begins December 16th this year which is a big festival of lights, hope and renewal, jelly donuts, bread, and potato pancakes. For Elisabeth, it's that one time of year guaranteed to take her on a journey through the senses beginning with the lights on the houses and candles on advent wreath and menorah. There is the overwhelming smell of cookies and bread baking, candy canes dipped in hot cocoa, and whatever recipes we can rustle up together as a family. She loves the sound from the carols and bells ringing and the warm and cold feeling from the hustle and bustle of people she loves coming in and out of her life wherever we go. She loves to visit her neighbors bringing cookies, preserves, and whatever canning specialties we have in storage.
It's the one time of year I really enjoy taking her to shopping malls, skating rinks, and concerts because people are so responsive to her needs. She is usually greeted with cheery hellos and laughing (sometime crying) children. Sometimes, people come up to us and ask, "Aren't you concerned she's cold?" One time, a very concerned ice rink employee skated passed us motioning to take the wheelchair off the rink. Calmly, I explained that this was the only way she could enjoy skating and I would be willing to sign a release not holding them responsible for any accident we might incur. I also pointed out that little kids see her as a "safety" feature since they like to use her wheelchair to balance out when they feel like they are going to fall. It also keeps me from embarrassing myself from falling on the ice which I am more likely to do without Elisabeth's support!
It’s the one time of year guaranteed to lift her spirits by the way she physically and emotionally responds to all the winter traditions and festivities that most of us take for granted. She knows there is something very special about this time of year and we truly enjoy watching her moving through this wonderful awakening sensory experience. Even when we had to be in the hospital over the holidays when she was younger for her surgeries, she tolerated being there because it was full of decorations, music, and holiday cheer.