Easter is coming. Bring on the Peeps and Cadbury Eggs and pastel everything. Haul the Easter baskets out of the closet and empty them of last year’s debris. Buy the egg-dying kit and Google search every hunt in a 15-mile radius.
There'll be a million...unless you're the parent of a child with sensory or mobility issues. Then your search field narrows (too crowded, too young, too loud, too inaccessible). I know. As a mom to a son with cerebral palsy, I’ve been there. No one wants to see their kid come back with an empty basket.
But it’s time to open Easter back up. It’s a celebration, after all, a rite of passage for spring and new life and new growth in the world and in your child. So, let’s embrace this sugar-crazed and candy-glazed holiday.
Here are the best ways to tailor Easter to your special needs child. Bring on the bunnies.
No one ever said the hunt had to take place in a field, at a church, or the zoo. Why not bring the fun home?
Some of my favorite memories are of sneaking peeks out the window while my mom and older brother hid the tie-dyed eggs I’d only slightly botched in our yard. My brother assigned himself the job of “weirdest hider.” We once found eggs, weeks later, decomposing in the pool vents.
Sometimes the big, organized hunts can be too much. It’s chaotic and crowded and loud as well as a race. It favors the aggressive type. But hunting at home provides the same satisfaction of the search without the competition. There’s no chance that your basket will be empty in the end and you can take your time. One year, halfway through the hunt, my son decided he was over it. We picked up where we left off after his nap. It’s not like the eggs are going anywhere.
If you choose to host your own hunt, you get to customize your hiding locales to make it easier for your child (I’d avoid the pool vents). My son is in a wheelchair, so we hide eggs at eye level: in tree nooks and planters and perched on top of bushes. If your child has mobility issues, this brings the hunt to them. We’ve also hidden eggs in big buckets of plastic grass or rice so he can dig through it, like finding buried treasure. That one is also great for additional sensory stimulus (although I’m not sure how environmentally friendly that grass is, it looks like it might outlast global warming).
Sensory issues come in all shapes and sizes and colors and sounds. April weather is iffy. Rain, wind, or even bright sun can ruin the fun if it is overwhelming. But no one says you have to hunt outside. If you’ve ever found Legos behind your fridge or crayons down air vents, you know there’s plenty of hiding places in your own home. Get creative: behind couches, on window sills, in bookcases, and in kitchen cabinets. It’s all fair game as long as you remember where you put them all. The smell of rotting eggs is not a sensory experiment anyone enjoys.
If your child’s mobility is limited enough to prevent them from going to the eggs, bring the eggs to them. This is also great for little kids who are still in crawl-mode. I’ve turned myself into the bird lady from Mary Poppins, adding layer upon layer of cardigans and hats and purses and then hidden eggs in every available pocket. Then I present myself for inspection. It’s an informal pat-down for contraband and it’s hilarious. Little hands everywhere. You’re going to need to sign over your personal space on this one, but it’s worth it and has the makings of a great home-movie.
Possibly the hardest part about egg hunting is the competition. Even if you’re hunting at home, if you have multiple kids, this can quickly lead to the devolution of your household. They fight enough over the last push pop, let’s not add fuel to the fire. Hide clues in each egg and turn it into a treasure hunt. This way the kids are working as a team. It’ll be like Survivor – you have to form alliances or be kicked off the island. This is great for older kids too because it adds a little mental stimulus to the action.
Beating out both Halloween and Valentine’s Day, Easter takes the gold for highest candy-consumption of the year. I get it. I cannot pass a bunny-shaped Reese’s to save my life and I’m a sucker for every variety of M&M or jelly bean if you turn it pastel and put a baby chick on the front. But not all kids can eat, or handle, the sugar rush. I mean, if you think about it, marshmallow Peeps might not even be actual food.
If your child doesn’t tolerate sugar or unfamiliar textures, skip the candy. We’ve filled plastic eggs with Legos to create the greatest tower ever known to man when all the eggs were cracked. We’ve filled them with puzzle pieces, only to be completed if every egg was found. We’ve even filled them with magnet alphabet letters, to be lined up when all is said and done. A bonus for you is that you’ll know if you’ve got a rogue egg missing.
The best way I know how to get kids excited about anything is to read them a book about it. Books are like holiday eves, they exist to stir up excitement about what’s to come. They also help your child understand what the holiday is about. Here a few of the ones we love to read in the weeks approaching Easter:
"The Country Bunny and Little Gold Shoes" by DuBose Heyward is feminism at its best. The country bunny gets to be THE Easter bunny despite the fact that she’s also mother to 21 little ones.
"Happy Easter! Mouse" by Laura Numeroff is a must if you want to see the mouse who ate the cookie go on an egg hunt.
"Llama Llama Easter Egg" by Anna Dewdney is great for toddlers and kids with difficulty reading as it’s written in easy rhymes and comes in the already familiar Llama Llama series.
"Happy Easter Little Critter" by Mercer Mayer is pure nostalgia. Who doesn’t remember the Critter books?
"The Easter Egg" by Jan Brett is so beautiful you might not want to let your kids touch it. Just Google the illustrations and you’ll see what I mean.
So, if you are the parent of a child with special needs or just want to shake things up a bit this Easter, try out a few of these ideas and start some family traditions that can grow with your kids. If Easter is about new beginnings, then you’re already on the right track.