Autism and Holiday Tips: Preparing for the Holidays with Your Child with Autism

Holidays can be a stressful time for children with autism and their families, as well as for the professionals who work with them. Today, I’m going to give you some tips that might help make your holidays a little bit less stressful, and more joyful; this blog is all about autism and holidays tips!

Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around. So, if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now. Holidays are filled with unusual sensory stimuli and can be a major disruption in a child’s routine, causing stress for them, their families, and professionals.

Maybe the holidays will involve traveling, staying at a hotel, or at a relative’s home. It may involve distant relatives staying over at your home, or visiting, as well. Here are some tips to make the holidays a little bit less stressful, and more enjoyable.

First of all, we want to assess the situation. We want to assess your child’s skills and deficits, including his or her usual response to holidays and specific special occasions. Some children are fine with holidays. Maybe just some of the holidays are a problem, and some holidays go great. Think about what part of the holidays are more stressful. The introduction of unfamiliar, or less familiar people and changes in routine can often be the major factors causing stress. Every holiday may bring its own unique challenges too.

So, for example, if you celebrate Christmas, your child may have difficulty with furniture being moved around so that you can fit the tree in a certain spot. They might benefit from you getting out pictures of past Christmases, so you can show them where the furniture goes for the Christmas tree to fit.

Or maybe your child has difficulties with the noise of the Fourth of July, or New Year’s Eve parties. New Year’s Eve celebrations are often late at night and can disrupt sleep, on top of being noisy. If you’re going to be traveling by car, train, or plane to celebrate a holiday, be sure to bring your child’s favorite toys, books, and electronics because there’s often wait times, and with traveling, you never know what you’re going to face.

We also want to prepare your child, and others, as much as possible. If you’re having relatives stay in your home, for instance, and everybody needs to switch beds to allow for the visitors to stay, whenever possible, keep your child in their own bed, in their own room. This will usually result in more success than if you have your child also move locations to sleep.

If traveling to someone else’s home, it’s best to educate family members or friends with strategies that may help reduce anxiety and problem behaviors. For example, if your child doesn’t like hugs, you may want to tell the family members that you’re visiting to avoid hugging or insisting that the child greet them in a certain way. You may also want to tell them to avoid asking questions, especially on arrival, and you may want to work with them to identify a space that can be designated a calm space in case the child should become overwhelmed during the visit.

Sometimes a lot of support is needed, like my son, Lucas, who is a young adult now and is usually in a one-to-one situation in his work environment and at home. He needs a lot of supervision. If that’s the case with your child, you may want to have a point person. That person could be a parent, an older sibling, or another relative, to give that child one-to-one attention and support during the holiday. The first thing they should do is, make sure the child stays safe and doesn’t ruin anything.

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I remember one of the holidays, we were at a relative or friend’s house, and Lucas got a hold of markers and wrote on a wall. I mean, that’s really embarrassing, but it will happen if you don’t have somebody always keeping an eye on the situation and making sure they don’t get into things. Also, I have heard a story or two of a child who, when not given enough support, wandered away from a holiday celebration. So, you want to make sure to designate a point person. That point person can rotate every couple of hours. Every hour you’re like, “Okay, Suzie, you’re on Johnny for the next hour.” This way Suzie knows that she needs to stay in the same room, keep an eye out, and make sure that the child is not getting overwhelmed. Also, that person can then provide additional reinforcement as well.

I do think that that is a good thing to implement if your child needs additional support, reinforcement, prevention of being overwhelmed, keeping them safe, and keeping the house that you’re at safe.

If the holidays involve gifts, you may want to practice gift-giving, and unwrapping presents because your child may not get enough practice with that in between the holidays. You can empty boxes or wrap your child’s existing toys into boxes, and practice the skill of opening, and even thanking people for presents while waiting their turn as other people unwrap their presents.

Now, I know that I had talked a lot about picky eating in past blogs, but picky eating, or having your child on a special diet needs advanced planning, too. You may want to bring your child’s food or make sure that whoever’s hosting the holiday event will present food that your child will eat. This is not the time to be working on expanding the child’s diet. They’re going to experience enough unusual stimuli in the environment. They should have their regular foods that you know they’ll like and eat well.

You know your child with autism best, so you’re the best one to prepare him or her to avoid stress and being overwhelmed. You may have holiday things you want to avoid altogether, like Black Friday shopping or a New Year’s Eve party. It may just be easier and more pleasant for everyone if you hire a babysitter for certain events or stay home with your child and have your own, more quiet fun.

Finally, I think it’s always great to have realistic expectations and try to make each holiday season just a little bit better than the last one by preparing and planning. By preparing ahead, you should keep stress down, so that you can have a happier holiday season. If you watched the video or read this post, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, and share the video/post with others who might benefit.

To learn more about how to help children with autism, you can sign up for one of my free online workshops today that will help you increase language and decrease problem behaviors in your child or client with autism. Happy holidays and I’ll see you right here next week.

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