2014 Military Special Needs Network Holiday Guide Winter 2014 - Page 22

Great Expectations

By Dr. Heather Dierolf

Director, Springall Academy

Imagine if you will, the busy-ness of the winter season. A season filled with fun and

anticipation. Winter includes family holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas,

Hanukah, New Years and many other special family events. Families gather around

food and traditions. You might spend the whole day planning for every detail, then

Grandma comes late, you burn the pumpkin pie and the whole plan changes. You

quickly shift gears and the merriment continues. Shift gears? Merriment continues?

Not in your house!

Having a child with special needs makes changing gears and shifting plans a mere

impossible feat. It simply doesn’t happen. One small change effects so many aspects

of your lives that it is can be hard to recover. A small event in our adult minds

equals a catastrophe to our children. Our unique children simply don’t do well with

change and unpredictability

At Springall Academy in San Diego, we work with children age six through

twenty-two with a variety of special needs. One tip that I would like to share with

you is the use of the terms expected and unexpected. We work with the students on

what to expect in certain situations. For example, What do you expect on the first

day of school? Reponses could include, I will meet my new teacher, I will find my

new desk. I will meet new students. The same is true for the unexpected. The

response could be I don’t expect the class to be the same as last year. I don’t expect to

sit next to the same student. We then discuss how it feels to experience what you

expect as well as the experience of the unexpected. Whether the child can verbalize

the feelings or not, it is a meaningful conversation to have with the children.

Prompts and guidance about how someone might feel will be helpful for everyone.

You can use a similar structure in helping to prepare your student for the holidays.

Review through conversation or even a role-play in your own home; What is

expected on Thanksgiving? Who do you expect to be there? Who can you expect to

sit next to? Having this conversation will help alleviate both your worries and those

of your children.

Conversely, like fire drills in schools, talk about and practice what to do if

something unexpected happens. What if dinner is later than expected? What if you

have to wait for Grandma to get there? What if your favorite cousin can’t make the

dinner? Having a plan for the expected and unexpected will go a long way. This

direct practice of planning for disappointment or change has proved successful at

Springall during the school year and I am confident it will help you too!

As you enjoy this holiday season, I have great expectations of the sharing of love

and the building of memories. I wish you all of that and more.

22 2014 MSNN Holiday Guide / November, 2014