The holiday season brings with it plenty of joy, good tidings and even better food. For many, it is also an incredibly stressful time, as routines need to be adjusted and there is plenty of traveling and shopping to be done. If you are the parent or guardian of a child on the autism spectrum, the challenges might not stop there.
Anytime there is a change in routine or a child will be taken out of their comfort zone and thrust into a social situation with family, peers, or fellow passengers aboard a plane, there are obstacles to overcome. For many on the spectrum, the increased stimulation that this festive season is sure to bring can become overwhelming very quickly. We’ve put together some tips to make this holiday season more enjoyable for everyone.
Tips for the Holiday Season
1. Prepare, prepare prepare.
One of the things that can prove the most jarring for children on the spectrum is the sudden changes in their routine that can come along with the holidays. From going on winter break at school, to needing to put on new or specific clothes or eating different food, a lot changes in a relatively short amount of time.
The best way to get ahead of the anxiety that these changes may bring is to prepare ahead of time. When you anticipate the change, communicate with your child to help them prepare for their new routine. Use visuals, have them go through the motions and practice the behaviors that are appropriate for the upcoming events.
This is true for traveling as well. Break down the steps that you’ll be taking to travel from packing to arrival. Simulate the experience the best you can, and watch videos or make your own visuals for your child to study. If they’ll be meeting new people, show them pictures of those people ahead of time. Do your best to bring plenty of toys and other sensory-friendly stimulation for the flight or drive. The more time you give your child to prepare, the more likely they are to incorporate what they learned.
2. Decorate gradually.
Decorations for the holidays are common and fun. However, they can also prove to be very disruptive to a child on the spectrum. The best way to change the environment by adding decorations is doing so gradually. Introducing the child to decorations slowly and methodically can greatly ease the stress that comes with the change. Stretch it out over several hours, days or even weeks if needed. This can help ensure that everyone enjoys the festive decor.
3. Teach your Child how to Support Themselves When Needed
The worry that you won’t be able to enjoy the festivities with your child on the spectrum is a reasonable one. Especially if you feel they need consistent attention. One of the most helpful things you can do for both you and your child this season is to practice and teach them how to leave a situation that is overwhelming or seek support from you or other family.
This type of self-sufficiency can be a challenging milestone to conquer. We recommend considering what resources will be available to your child during the height of the festivities. For example, if you’ve dedicated a safe zone in your house for your child, show them that an appropriate way to deal with overwhelming stimulation is to go there. You can also let them know the best way to seek your support when feeling that way. Practicing those methods can help reduce any instance of tantrums and also give you some peace of mind should a situation come up.
4. Prepare Family Members on How Best to Support your Child
Reach out to your family members before the festivities begin so that they know what behaviors to expect and more importantly, how best to support your child throughout the night. This proactive approach can ensure that everyone is accounted for and prepared to support your child if needed.
If certain family members work better with your child, be sure to reach out to them for support, and let your child know that they are available as a resource. Creating an inclusive environment for your child can make a world of difference for the whole family.
5. Take Care of Yourself and Take Your Time
The holidays are stressful. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and partake in the things that make the holidays full of joy. One of the most important things to remember is that you should take care of yourself and be sure to reach out for support if needed.
Take your time with these transitions, introduce things gradually and when you need a breather, take it. This will help you feel better equipped to help your child through the obstacles they might face this time of year.
If you follow these general principles, you’re guaranteed to enjoy a more manageable holiday season. Be sure to keep up with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more autism-related tips for the holidays and all-year round.
Happy Holidays from all of at The Place for Children with Autism. We can’t wait to ring in the new year with you!