The Holiday season is in full swing, and December brings some of the busiest and biggest holiday activities. The holiday season can be an especially challenging time for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are more activities to do and many of those activities are not a part of the typical schedule (such as brother or sisters school play). There are usually more people coming into a child’s life, and some of those people may be individuals the child only sees during the holiday season. There are also presents; giving and receiving, and typically a break from school. What this can create for a child with Autism is a significant disruption in his or her schedule and routine, being exposed to situations that are going to be anxiety producing, and experiencing dysregulation for a variety of reasons.
Helping your child with Autism navigate the Holidays not only helps them, but also provides the opportunity for everyone to experience a more relaxed and enjoyable season. Try some of the following suggestions that may help make things go a bit more smoothly:
1) Plan ahead for events by creating a visual calendar and preparing your child at least a week in advance for activities that he or she will be participating in.
2) When attending an event, party, or even Christmas shopping, don’t forget to bring aids to help your child such as a fidget toy, headphones, etc. The big family get together or little sisters Christmas concert are not the times to try to work on social and sensory improvement. Instead, try to set up the situation to be enjoyed by everyone even if that means your child with Autism is on the iPad for an hour.
3) For especially busy days, create a schedule of the events for that day that your child can take with him or her and check off events as each one is completed.
4) If possible, solicit help and assistance from relatives. Having an extra person who understands your child’s Autism issues can be very valuable.
5) Be wary of and try to avoid any relatives who might, for whatever reason, trigger a meltdown in your child. Unfortunately not all family members understand and some even make matters worse. You may discover that avoiding such relatives (even if it makes them unhappy) creates a more peaceful holiday experience for you and your child.
6) Be mindful of times or places that may be particularly chaotic and plan accordingly. Simply taking 5-10 minutes to stop and think about what you are about to do and how your child might best be guided through the experience will go a long way in making the experience more successful.
7) Remember quality not quantity. Your child may not last as long at a holiday event as you would but good quality time is more important than the quantity of time spent.
8) Try to have fun and let your child have fun. Most of the things you will be doing are meant to be enjoyable, keep that philosophy in mind. I’m wishing for you that your holidays are the best ever and that you create some wonderful memories for you and your family!
Robert Jason Grant Ed.D, LPC, RPT-S, CAS