For Erin Balfour, a mum of two children who both have Neurological conditions, attending events such as weddings can be a huge challenge. If you, or any of your guests, have any hidden disabilities, here are some things for you to consider.
As a mum of two children who both have what’s known as ‘hidden disabilities’, attending even family gatherings, never mind weddings, is a huge challenge. My husband and I usually spend the whole time anticipating or soothing their sensory overloads and missing the event, or sometimes if it’s all too much we simply have to leave early.
What is a hidden disability, you might be asking, and why would that happen? We’re all familiar with disabilities where equipment such as a wheelchair or hearing aids makes it clear that someone needs additional support, but what about when there are no obvious pointers like these to suggest that someone might be struggling?
Neurological conditions like autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, and a whole host of ‘syndromes without a name’, don’t always come with support aids (although lots do). Many of them come with ‘invisible’ characteristics such as being overwhelmed by noises, smells, and lights. This can be really challenging and actually impossible to cope with in a noisy, busy, ‘neurotypical’ world. We are beginning to accommodate the needs of those with these disabilities – we have quiet hours in shops, and autism-friendly performances in theatres and cinemas where the house lights aren’t totally off and the volume is lower – but we still have a long way to go.
Now a wedding day, with its hustle and bustle, and a high likelihood of having extended periods of waiting and milling about, can be extremely difficult for those with the type of disability described above, and for their carers (especially if we’re talking about children). A very common characteristic is the need for a clear and rigid routine with no deviation from what’s been decided. The consequence of this not happening usually leads to what’s known as a meltdown – and no this is not a tantrum, but rather the end result of building pressure inside a person because they’re unable to process or cope any longer with the unexpected and the overwhelming. It can cause them actual physical pain. Imagine you’re in a room with twenty televisions on, ten radios, five people asking you questions, lights flashing, perfumes being sprayed, and you can’t distinguish between any of them, nor filter them out. You would want to collapse and scream! A crude analogy, perhaps, but it goes a little way to explain exactly how overwhelming things can become for those with sensory processing difficulties.
The good news is that there are measures you can take to smooth the way as much as possible on a busy wedding day so that everyone has the best shot at enjoying themselves. It’s all about anticipating needs and accommodating them where you can.
Here are a few things you can do to make it easier for neurodiverse guests and those with complex needs to attend your wedding.
BEFORE THE WEDDING DAY
♥ Provide your guest with the order of the day in advance so that they know what will be happening where and when.
This could include the seating plans, the order of service, the menu, and even itinerary information from the planner. If there’s nothing on the menu that they can cope with, consider asking them what they would like and asking the venue to accommodate this. If the caterers know in good time, there’s no reason why this can’t happen. Remember, some may have a carer with them who isn’t their ‘plus one’, so make sure there are enough seats and meals!
♥ Using the web to do a little research on the type of disability your guest has is invaluable.
A school mum friend of mine did some reading around autism so that she could advise her daughter on what my son would need and also what he would find unhelpful. That totally touched my heart, and has really helped him. A little knowledge goes a heck of long way.
You could also just ask your guest directly what things they might find difficult so that you can either think of an alternative or understand why they might not be able to be present during certain parts of the day.
♥ Help guests to research the venue.
If it’s a church, maybe arrange to go on a few short visits with them to get to know the place. Churches, especially older ones, might have funny acoustics, so it’s best to know that in advance so they know to definitely pack the noise-cancelling ear defenders!
In fact, with any venue it’s a good idea for them to get to know where everything is and familiarise themselves on a more relaxed day with no pressure. Does it have adequate changing facilities if they have continence issues? A place for wheelchairs and other big equipment?
Also has the venue got WIFI so they can access their calming apps and familiar programmes on a tablet? If not, consider getting a portable WIFI hub from your phone network provider.
Speak to the manager in advance to request a quiet area for in case things get too much on the day. A place your guest can go to come down from overwhelm and to reset in their own time before heading back into things. This will be their absolute lifeline.