During the holiday season, families and other advocates for children with disabilities often plan parties or other annual events that are specifically for kids with special needs or their families. If you have decided to start up a new tradition or are the chairperson for an event in your community, thank you.
There are support group websites and national organizations that have helpful advice and creative suggestions that can help make your holiday party a huge success. The comments below are just a few suggestions that I have found useful.
First of all, include as many family group members as possible in planning and providing refreshments, props, entertainment, a welcome table, or items for an information area. Having commitments to participate can increase the number of party guests who arrive early.
If at all possible, find reliable volunteers from the community to help set up and then clean up after your event. High school students may earn points towards graduation for community service. Scouts, sports teams, and groups from local parks departments, businesses or organizations can be great resources.
Door prizes and raffle drawings can be very exciting at advocacy group and family support group parties. For more fun and less anxiety, names should be written on tickets dropped into the door prize or raffle box.
All sorts of things can go wrong with drawings - those who win a lesser prize might feel shortchanged because their ticket was not in play for the grand prize at the exciting climax of the event, and grand prize winners may have preferred one of the other prizes. Most people are just glad to have won something. Make your drawing as much fun as it can be, for you and all participants.
If children's gifts, baskets or other items are to be provided by parents at holiday parties, a limit can be suggested on the value of the items brought. Remember that brothers and sisters will be looking for items of similar value and of course deserve to be happily included throughout an event.
If other activities are available while the gift presentations are carried out, both impatient and fearful children will be under less stress. If a special visitor or character in costume hands out gifts, it may be more memorable for most children to have someone who will listen to them and respond positively - hopefully without making unreasonable commitments.
It's also a wonderful convenience for both adults and children if everyone wears a name tag. At a Down Syndrome Buddy Walk one year, my son wrote 'James (his name) Bond" on the name tag. While everyone did not realize who he was, everyone seemed to know him.
Service clubs and other community groups may have volunteers who will arrive in the final moments of the festivities just to put into practice the skills they have developed holding their own events. When children get tired and events wind down, it's not always possible for everyone who offered to help clean up afterwards to honor that commitment.
Those who have not taken on a major project may not realize that individuals who do all the planning and work need to hear enthusiastic and positive remarks about the success of the event, and may not realize that in addition to all advice being criticism, all criticism is doubly so.
Whether you throw a party for a support or advocacy group or have a family gathering, you need two or three friends who have experienced the same shock and trauma, who know that only praise and admiration are appropriate to shower upon you.
Lacking this, write yourself notes to find later reminding yourself that you have accomplished something noble and excellent, in case everyone else is too busy celebrating to notice that someone planned the perfect entertainment, food, drink, timing and atmosphere.
You have done a great thing and deserve wonderful rewards and accolades. If anyone gives you a simple 'thank you' it's perfectly reasonable to modestly blush and deny that you went out of your way to create a pleasant experience.
Don't kick yourself later if you decide ranting and/or raving would have been a more appropriate response, especially if someone gives you a compliment and then adds 'you really didn't need my help after all.' Have someone waiting in the wings who will laugh and growl with you later.
Remember that other families may have had several stressful days and nights before they arrived at the celebration, so be prepared with good humor and choose a diplomatic emcee.
Don't hesitate to ask for help, or to delegate work. You may find you have a few moments to stop and enjoy the party yourself. Thank you for everything you do for families and children in your community. Happy holidays!
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