Inclusion Tips for the Holidays
Tips to ensure you are creating an inclusive environment for children who are deaf and/or hard of hearing.
Compiled by Summer McGrady, Easterseals Washington Vice President of Community Engagement and parent of a wonderful little boy that LOVES all things related to the holidays, is extremely social & also happens to be deaf in a mostly hearing family. *Compiled with input from deaf adults, parents, online resources, Washington State Hands & Voices and the Northwest School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children.
The holidays are here! For many families, this is a festive and fun time to get together and celebrate. Typical hearing children are picking up information about all that is happening and all the plans that are being made all around them, through general conversations, phone conversations, etc. Make sure your children who are deaf and hard of hearing have access to what is going on both prior to the planned holiday events and during too. Here are some tips to ensure that you are creating an environment where everyone can be included in the holiday events and the conversations surrounding them—this can help prevent your child from feeling frustrated about the experience(s) and ensure they are not left out. A little effort goes a long way in showing your child that you are truly invested in their inclusive experience. We all just want to be included.
As with all tip lists, not everything will apply to you, your child and/or your family. Treat this like a buffet, grab what makes sense for you now, knowing that you can always come back for more later.
Plan Ahead: The key is planning ahead and modeling for your child the importance of ensuring they are included.
Prepare Your Child:
- Who will be attending? Explain to your child who will be attending, practice their names, and show your child pictures of each person ahead of time. Will there be new people that your child has never met before? Use pictures and/or sign language (ASL, PSE, SEE) to help.
- Work with your child on social conversations - remind your child about interests, jobs, passions, hobbies, likes/dislikes, etc. of the people who are coming. It is much easier to have a conversation with someone if you know something about them. Role play and practice with your child if needed.
- What will you be doing? Talk your child through what your plans are, create an itinerary if needed, use social stories if that is helpful or utilize books.
- Going to multiple events and/or multiple homes – walk your child through the plans. Often in the moment, we rush in and out and that can be confusing and overwhelming if your child doesn’t understand what is going on – give them the information ahead of time.
- Address any thoughts or concerns your child may have ahead of time, let them know that their comfort and/or anxiety matters to you. Discuss ways they can advocate for themselves if needed and how you can help with that.
- Have your child choose a game or two that they really like, to prepare for when people come over or if you are going somewhere, this will give them some options and help them be more likely to initiate play with other children.
- Get your child involved in the preparations – is there something your child can help you make? If so, they will be able to tell guests that they were part of the meal prep, decorating, setting the table, etc.
- Think about seating arrangements – will there be a round table making it easier to see everyone, or small table/children’s table? Find a way to ensure your child will be able to see all or at least most of the guests at the table. Think about centerpieces, are they blocking the view of people across the table?
- Will there be interpreting/signing at the table? Be sure to sit the person interpreting across from your child so there is clear visibility of the table and your child for interpreting.
- Have you connected your child with a mentor who is deaf? A number of communities have programs for this, not only is this great for your child, it is also a great opportunity for the entire family to learn new things.
Prepare Your Family:
- What is your child’s preferred way of communicating? Communicate that to your family and/or guests.
- Share information about your child with family/guests i.e. their likes, interests, recent news. Encourage your family and guests to engage your child about things important to them and/or things happening in their life, encourage them to get to know your child and meet your child where they are at.
- Does your child use sign language or are they learning sign language (ASL, PSE, SEE)? Include the family. Send all the people that will be attending a list of commonly used daily signs or even holidays signs, send them a link to an online resource, or even mail them a DVD of signs ahead of time.
- Communicate with your family the importance of ensuring that your child has access to what is happening around them during the holidays, explaining how difficult busy and loud environments can be.
- Give family members basic tips, for example: talk naturally; don’t over emphasize; please face my child and make eye contact when talking to them; if my child asks you to repeat yourself, please do so, never say never mind, help my child feel like what they have to communicate is important too because it is; need to get my child’s attention? Move into their visual field or gently tap their shoulder or elbow if needed, etc.
- Give the host (if it isn’t you) some basic tips, for example: please don’t have holiday music at full blast during the festivities; please don’t have large centerpieces in the middle of the table blocking our views of each other; ask for information about the seating arrangements so you can create a plan, etc.
- Would people attending be willing to have a talking stick during dinner? Or maybe just introduce hand raising when talking. If this is too much, discuss the importance of not talking over each other, interrupting, or having multiple conversations going at the same time at the dinner table.
- Young children are very eager to learn – so make it fun. For example: you can send a sign language book or DVD to your child’s cousins before the events, so they can learn some signs.
- Remind your family why you are doing this...to include your child.
Prepare Your Technology:
- Check assistive listening devices to ensure they are working properly, have working batteries or fully charged batteries i.e. hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM Systems.
- Turn on your TV captioner, so it is on when movies and/or sports play on your TV while everyone is there. Traveling to someone else’s house? Make sure they turn the TV captioner on prior to your arrival (always a good idea to bring a captioned movie as back up, just in case).
Prepare for Travel:
- Traveling on a plane? Check security procedures if you child has assistive listening devices i.e. create a plan with your child going through scanners or metal detectors if they wear cochlear implants for example.
- Be sure to pack extra equipment/backup equipment in case something stops working while away from home.
Prepare for Special Events:
- Attending a play, concert or special holiday event? Prepare/call in advance for preferred seating and interpreting services if needed. Find out if the building/area is looped.
- Going to a special worship? Prepare/call in advance for preferred seating and interpreting services if needed.
- Going to see Santa? Check to see if they have a signing santa option. If not, let Santa know your child is deaf or hard of hearing and give him a few tips so he can accommodate.
- Check your local listings or local community groups/networks, any Deaf community events happening in your area? Plan a fun family outing and attend.
Day Of: You have prepared, so you and your child feel excited about the festivities.
- Interpret for your child if and when needed. An excellent place to interpret is at the dinner table to ensure your child has access to what is happening around them.
- Everyone enjoys learning the signs for the various holidays. Have your child teach the relatives those signs and other signs IF and only if your child is interested & excited about doing that. Make it a fun activity. You can even prepare sign language placemats with signs for the main dishes or tent cards ahead of time and make it fun for everyone!
- Sometimes it can be hard for the child with hearing loss to get involved in the meal once everyone starts visiting, discuss some solutions with your child if they are interested in that. For example, give your child a flash light - when they want to initiate a topic or make a comment, he/she can flicker the light, so they get everyone’s attention.
- Give your child a job that encourages them to interact with guests i.e. taking coats, setting the table with someone else.
- Be aware of background noise & lighting: no loud holiday music during dinner, make sure there is good lighting, and make sure that your child isn’t looking right in to the lighting (window, bright lamp) that prevents them from seeing people clearly.
- If your child wears assistive listening equipment, show the family how it works or how the TV captioner works – let your child see you getting your family involved.
- Gives breaks when needed. Your child may need to take some quiet time, allow for that.
- Bonus: Make the day special! Use the sense of sight and smell to help your child associate this with a special day (rather than the sense of hearing) – light a scented candle or cook cider on the stove top.
- Have fun!
Have any tips to add? We would love your feedback. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.