Give the Gift of Grace to Special Needs Parents this Christmas, by David and Mercedes Rizzo

Christmas can be a stressful time for families with children with special needs. Routines are often changed, visitors arrive and suddenly there is a tree growing out of your living-room floor. Add to that shopping and parties and the true meaning of Christmas can be lost in all the busyness.

Our children have always looked forward to putting up our tree. One year we chose a really tall tree that almost touched the ceiling. We barely had time to admire all of our work when our daughter Danielle, who has autism, reached up and decided to grab a dangling ornament. Due to her autism she loves to shake things and the ornament was simply too inviting. She grabbed it too hard and all we heard was a loud CRASH and down came our perfectly decorated tree. Our youngest, Shannon was crying, our boys Brendan and Colin were angry, and we were all pretty sick and tired of dealing with autism. After all isn’t Christmas suppose to be a time of great joy? For many years we wondered what the answer was to that question as year after year we recalled the great passage from Luke:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Fortunately over the years Danielle’s behaviors became more manageable; in fact many of them disappeared completely. She learned to love Christmas. One of her favorite things to do now is sit on her physioball and watch the sparkling white lights of our beautiful tree while listening to Christmas carols. She no longer needs constant supervision and our holidays are a lot less stressful. It has been many years since our Christmas tree has come tumbling down. Times sure have changed for the better.

But one year, we were reminded that this is not the case for every special needs family. We went to an annual Christmas party thrown each year for kids and young adults with special needs and their families. Most everyone was having a terrific time. Sitting at a table close to ours we noticed a father and his adult son. The young man was having a difficult time at the party. He kept jumping up and darting out of the room. The father would also jump up quickly and run after his son. This went on for quite awhile. While we were sitting at our table enjoying the company, the music and all the Christmas joy, it was obvious that this Dad was under enormous stress, constantly chasing after his adult son. He was not enjoying the party.

This got us thinking that Christmas is the perfect time to say an extra prayer for a special needs family. If you are out shopping or at a Christmas party or at Christmas Mass and you see a family with a special needs child who is struggling, offer a prayer for them. Ask God to fill their family with peace and joy and give them the gift of grace this Christmas. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. Visit to learn more. 

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