The aroma of delectable sweets in the air, and the decorative earthen lamps illuminating the streets buzzing with last-minute shoppers announce to us that Diwali is near. Children generally wait with anticipation for the auspicious day and all its festivities. The bright lights, loud noises of fireworks, and new clothes, however, can induce anxiety in children with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum. But with a little planning, you can make the festival of lights a joyous occasion for all children.
Here are a few tips to make Diwali a fun experience for children with special needs-
Explaining the Essence of Diwali
Regardless of which part of the world you are celebrating Diwali in, we can all agree that the festival is essentially about the victory of good over evil. So, Diwali can be an excellent opportunity for you to talk about the story of the Ramayana. You could also have a discussion around the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, if suitable for the child’s level of understanding. Talk to your child about how goodness or good behaviour is celebrated while bad behaviour is punished.
Children with special needs may have varying comprehension capabilities. For those who are into mythological stories, you can read a children’s book about the festival. If your child understands pictures better, you can create folders in the AAC app with relevant images. Customizing folders and adding images from the web can be done effortlessly in Avaz AAC app.
Diwali Social Story
Creating a social story can help prepare your child for all challenges that Diwali day throws at them. Planning ahead enables them to be ready for the day when it arrives. It also helps them relax and enjoy the day more.
The challenges of each child with special needs are unique. And so are the Diwali traditions in each household. So, there cannot be one story that works for all children. However, here is an example of a Diwali social story that you can customize according to your child’s abilities-
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- On Diwali Day
In some parts of India, people follow certain customs on Diwali eve and the day after Diwali. In such cases, create separate stories for each day.
- Wake up at 7 AM
Some children can get anxious if woken up earlier than usual. So, talk to them beforehand in case you plan to wake them up early.
- Wear New Clothes
If the child can choose their clothes, plan your shopping trip to accommodate their preferences. If you are familiar with the local garment business owner, try to arrange a shopping visit early in the day. Most people are understanding and will be willing to help.
Once the clothes have been picked, get the child familiar with the colours and textures of the fabric. You can include a picture of the chosen clothes in the AAC app, so that the child is clear that they’ll be wearing the same on Diwali day.
- Have Breakfast
If your Diwali menu includes foods that are not part of your child’s regular diet, talk to the child about the special dish that they will get to taste. If your child is averse to trying new dishes, you can provide them their regular breakfast instead.
- Guests Arrive
If you are expecting guests, prepare your child ahead of time. If the guests include people the child is not familiar with, talk to them about each person that they are likely to meet. You can also show them pictures of each individual guest on the AAC app. If the child gets anxious during social meetings, take the child to a safe space to help them relax. Make sure that you identify a safe space and discuss with the child about it. Read here for more on safe spaces and how to prepare your child for fireworks and other challenges related to Diwali.
- Wish Everyone Happy Diwali
Create a folder with which the child can wish the guests a happy Diwali. Make sure the folder is easily accessible and that the child knows how to navigate to it.
Some children with special needs may be comfortable with certain fireworks. But sudden bursts of light and loud noise can agitate many children on the autism spectrum. If you have concerns that your child might not enjoy fireworks, talk to the child about noises that they can expect to hear.
For some, Diwali involves travelling to their hometown and celebrating the holiday with loved ones. In such cases, include folders about the journey to prepare the child for it. You can also create additional folders for snack time or temple visits according to your agenda for the Diwali day. Remember to go over the story several times to prepare the child for the special day.
Sharing Diwali Anecdotes
Conversation is an important form of communication. In fact, experts suggest that when you share things about yourself, it encourages the child to express their views and opinions. So, have a conversation with your child reminiscing about how you celebrated Diwali as a child.
You can talk about the Diwali traditions that you followed or the aspect of the holiday you like the most. Talk to them about your favourite Diwali snack. You can also show them corresponding pictures on the AAC app.
Diwali is all about getting rid of darkness by spreading the light of happiness and hope. Follow these simple ideas to make sure that your child’s face lights up with joy on Diwali day. Wishing you and your family a Happy, Inclusive Diwali and all the prosperity the festive day brings!!!