For most people the holiday season is a time of joy, anticipation and lots of family time. However, for families of children on the autism spectrum this might represent a special challenge that may increase when schedules are disrupted and routines are broken.
We want to make your holidays more enjoyable with our tips that will ensure a better experience for you and your family.
10 holiday tips for Autism parents
1. Preparation is key:
Take the time to mentally prepare your child for the holiday season. For example, if your son or daughter has a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her. Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the dates of various holiday events, or by creating a social story that highlights what will happen at a given event.
2. Decorations around the house may be overwhelming:
It may be helpful to revisit pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house. If such a photo book does not exist, use this holiday season to create one. For some it may also be helpful to take them shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are engaged in the process. Or involve them in the process of decorating the house. And once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about those that can and cannot be touched. Be direct, specific and consistent.
3. Gradually decorate the house:
For example, on the first day, put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day, decorate the tree and so on. And again, engage them as much as possible in this process. It may be helpful to develop a visual schedule or calendar that shows what will be done on each day.
4. Build a safe place:
Let’s say you are having visitors; have a space set aside for the child as his/her safe/calm space. Teach your child ahead of time that they should go to their space when they feel overwhelmed. This self-management tool will serve your kid in adulthood as well. For those who are not at that level of self-management, develop a signal or cue for them to show when they are getting anxious, and prompt them to use the space. For children with more significant challenges, practice using this space in a calm manner at various times prior to your guests’ arrival. Take them into the room and engage them in calming activities (e.g. play soft music, rub his/her back, turn down the lights, etc.)
5. Pack snacks, toys, and treats:
Having familiar items readily available can helpful to calm stressful situations. Also, prepare them via social stories or other communication systems for any unexpected delays in travel. If you are flying for the first time, it may be helpful to bring the individual to the airport in advance and help him/her become accustomed to airports and planes. Use social stories and pictures to rehearse what will happen when boarding and flying.
6. Prepare a photo album in advance of the family members who will be visiting:
Allow your child access to these photos at all times and also go through the photo album with him/her while talking briefly about each family member.
7. Practice opening gifts, taking turns and waiting for others:
Talk through this process to avoid overwhelming moments with family members.
8. Prepare family members:
Help them understand if your child prefers to be hugged or not, needs calm environments, etc. Provide them with recommendations that will facilitate the holiday season. If your kid becomes upset, it might also be helpful to coach others to remain calm and neutral in an effort to minimize meltdowns. You can find out more on autism and tantrums here.
9. Make sure there is adequate food available:
And even if they are not on a special diet, be cautious of the amount of sugar consumed. And try to maintain a sleep and meal routine.
10. Understand your child:
Know how much noise and other sensory inputs they can tolerate. Know their level of anxiety and the amount of preparation it may take. If you detect that a situation may become overwhelming, help them find a quiet area in which to regroup. And there may be some situations that you simply avoid (e.g. crowded shopping malls the day after Thanksgiving). Know their fears and the things that will make the season more enjoyable for them.
In the end, we would say don’t stress. Plan in advance. And most of all have a wonderful holiday season!
At, we believe that that having an informed parent –in an effort to empower him and his family– is the only way to for us to deliver optimal healthcare. Visit our website to find out more about our services and let us be part of your journey.