Most kids love Valentine’s Day, right?
It’s that fun childhood occasion that magically combines treats, with parties, friendship, chocolate and sometimes fun crafts. I used to love making the little Kleenex box Valentine’s Day card holder every year as a kid. I would painstakingly choose the precise Valentine for the precise child according to sentiment and image on said card. I was all kinds of perfectionist at an early age.
So how is Valentine’s Day with Special Needs Any Different than a Usual Day?
But holidays, transitions, occasions that allow for any variation on routine can also be a minefield for kids with special needs.
I was reminded of this again this year when we picked up our Valentine’s and got started on them. No meltdowns so far. And we are well into it here, also packing for a move. So I thought I’d share a few strategies we use to help Ainsley negotiate Valentine’s Day.
Five Strategies for Success – Valentine’s Day with Special Needs
1. Start early:
My girl is like a lot of kids with special needs – handwriting is very difficult for her. Her muscles in the hands tire easily and she is a lefty and her printing at the best of times can be hard to read. So we get our Valentine’s sometimes as far as one month in advance and let her go at her speed. She wants to do them and be involved and she wants to do them herself. So, we let her but she does maybe 3-4 a night. Slow and steady.
2. Nurture friendships:
Friendships are to be cherished and also nourished with help: At Christmas we buy gifts for kids who are really special to Ainsley (the ones who help her and don’t abruptly dump her as a friend because she has unpredictable outbursts or meltdowns) Same is true at Valentine’s Day. We make sure the class gets some sort of reward for standing by her. It can be baked goods, Kinder surprises or even an offer for a playdate or an offer to bring a special friend with us to that Disney flick everyone wants to see.
3. Remind them breaks are okay:
If there’s a party at school we try to remind Ainsley to remember not to overeat sweets, or remember if the noise is too loud to get a hall pass, or leave the room for a break. The noise level many days is brutally loud. Party day makes that even worse. That’s a big trigger for sensory overload. Breaks are necessary.
4. Bake together:
We love to bake together. It’s a sensory activity that works well for Ainsley. Breaking eggs, counting and measuring and telling time and then washing dishes. All activities she loves. Honestly, I think my daughter loves the process more than eating the baked goods. Washing dishes and cracking eggs are soothing sensory activities for Ainsley.
Plus, when we bake, she has something to give out and it makes her feel proud that she helped bake it. She loves to give stuff to people. It’s a nice thing to watch.
Ainsley has built this into her own process of self regulation. We used to need social stories when she was little. They worked really well for many transitions. But now she obsessively rehearses certain things all year long on her own. She plays them out. Same for Christmas. She will, for weeks, hand Valentine’s out before and after the event. It will be random and cute and sometimes a bit annoying when she is going to be late for school because she needs to write a handmade Valentine for the neighbour, or the teddy bear or whatever. It’s the way she internalizes what happens next. It’s all good and it works for her.
Special Needs Success Every Day
Valentine’s Day with special needs on deck can be extremely rewarding, especially if your child has made some friends in class. Follow these few tips to prepare and make the occasion a little more accessible for kids with special needs.