The holidays can be a fun but difficult time for children with autism and their families. Below are some holiday tips for children with Autism. Whatever your family celebrates, these tips can help you have a successful and fun holiday season!
1. Explain the Holiday Traditions
Children with autism may not understand the concept of the holiday that your family is currently celebrating. It is a good idea to explain the current holiday you will be celebrating. For example, if your family will be celebrating Christmas, you may want to discuss the concept of Christmas, and explain how the holiday works.
2. Set Expectations
Discuss what is expected of the child before the holiday begins. When children have a set of rules to follow, it can make things easier. For example, explaining that the presents under the Christmas tree can only be opened on Christmas, and we must wait to open them. You can even choose to list out the rules in writing or in pictures. It is usually best to make sure you give expectations about what to do, and not just tell them things to avoid doing. Explanations of expectations should be direct and straightforward. An example of this would be, “If your aunt gives you a present you don’t like, say thank you and give her a hug anyway.”
3. Practice in Advance
Practice what you will be doing on the holiday if there may be a lot of people and friends present at the holiday activities. Practice going over social skill strategies. You could practice saying, “Thank you,” after receiving a gift. Another example is if your family is celebrating Christmas, you can practice how to give gifts politely, as well as how to politely open and respond to gifts. Practice scenarios about how to respond if you don’t like a gift may also be helpful for some children.
4. Tell Your Family
If you will be having family over for the holidays, it is a good idea to talk to them about your child. You can give tips for interacting with your child, including things that are helpful, like talking clearly, or things that are not helpful, like correcting them in front of friends. Let them know things your child enjoys, and things they might not enjoy too much. Prepare family members to use techniques to reduce anxiety or behavioral events and increase commitment. Help us understand whether or not the person with autism wants to be hugged, needs relaxed conversations, or gives other ideas to encourage a happier holiday season. If the person gets agitated, counseling someone to stay cool and neutral in an attempt to mitigate behavioral outbursts may also be beneficial. Know the loved one with autism, above all else. Know how much noise they can handle and other sensory input. Know their anxiety level and the amount of planning that it should require. Help them find a peaceful place in which to regroup if you note that a situation may become stressful. And there could be certain scenarios you are actually ignoring. Understand their doubts and the stuff that can make the season more exciting for them.
5. Plan for Travel
Traveling around the holidays can be stressful. It is a good idea to have lots of preferred toys and books readily available for your child. This may help them through the traveling process, to keep them from boredom and to give you items you can use to reinforce appropriate behavior. Discuss travel arrangements with your child to prepare them. You might let them know, for example, how long the car ride will be and what they can earn along the way if they are doing what the parents say to do. You can create your own social story, which is a small book with pictures explaining appropriate behaviors in a certain situation, to help prepare them. Make sure you have your favorite snacks, books or toys accessible if you’re preparing for the holidays. It can help to soothe tense conditions by making common things readily available. Often, for any unforeseen delays in travel, plan them by social stories or other communication mechanisms. It might be helpful to get the person to the airport in advance to allow him / her to become acquainted with airports if you are flying for the first time. To rehearse what will happen while boarding and traveling, use social stories and photographs.
6. Planning is Important
For certain people, planning is important. At the same time, deciding how much planning a single individual can need is crucial. For instance, if your son or daughter appears to get nervous as you expect an incident that will happen in the future, you will want to change how many days you plan him or her in advance. By using a schedule and marking the dates of different holiday activities, planning will take place in different forms, or by constructing a social narrative that illustrates what will happen at a particular event.If a person with autism is having problems with transition, you might want to decorate the house gradually. For example put the Christmas tree up on the first day, then decorate the tree on the next day and so on. And again, in this process, involve them as much as possible. Developing a visual timetable or calendar that illustrates what will be accomplished on each day can be beneficial.
7. Keep Your Child’s Needs in Mind When Decorating
Some children with autism have trouble with change. It may be a good idea to decorate the house in stages, to give your child time to get used to the change. Some decorations can be overwhelming or be overstimulating (e.g., musical decorations). Be cautious of decorations that have loud music, bright lights, or other things that may cause a child to be distracted or upset. When decorations are breakable, consider putting them out of reach.
8. Plan Some Breaks
Around the Holidays, there are often lots of lights, loud music, and a ton of people around. These are a few things that may cause some sensory overload for your child. It is good to know what your child’s triggers are what symptoms they may show when they experience sensory overload. Planning breaks from large family events can be a great strategy. You may even want to choose an entire day where you and the family are together in a calmer environment to let everyone unwind, like in your own home.
Most of all, make sure to have fun and be with those you love! The holidays a wonderful time for families to come together and celebrate. Enjoy your holiday season!
We hoped you enjoyed these Holiday Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and if you ever have any questions or concerns, please contact Acuity Behavior Solutions at (714) 696-2862. Or check out our Facebook page!