The holidays can be a difficult time for individuals with autism and their families. There are so many changes in routine, new people to meet, and sensory overload from all of the holiday decorations and activities. However, with a little bit of preparation, you can make the holidays a happy and stress-free time for everyone. In this blog post, we will provide some tips for making the holiday season enjoyable for individuals with autism.
The holidays are a time for joy and family, but for many families living with autism, they can be a time of stress. With all the hustle and bustle of shopping and parties, it can be easy to forget what the holidays are really about. However, looking at the season through your child’s eyes can help keep the magic alive. Instead of focusing on what you used to do or what you think should be done, focus on what works now. This may mean creating new traditions that are more inclusive for your child. By making the holidays work for your family, you can help make them a time to cherish for years to come.
Prepare for events: Preparation is crucial for many people, but it’s important to determine how much preparation each child needs. For example, if your son or daughter tends to anxiety when anticipating an event that will occur in the future you may want to adjust how many days ahead of time by preparing him/her by using a calendar and marking off holidays on their own with special events like “I’m going out”. Another way would be creating social stories about what happens at different types of gatherings such as birthdays parties school plays etc., so there are no surprises later down the road.
Decorations: There are many children on the spectrum who feel overwhelmed by bright colors and loud noises. It may help to take them shopping for holiday décor this season so that they can be engaged in decorating their house from start to finish! You may need to create rules about those that can and cannot be touched after the holiday decorations have been put up. Be direct, specific, and consistent so all family members know what is allowed for safety reasons!
Be mindful of sensory overload: For people on the Autism spectrum, change can be difficult. To make the transition from one activity or event in your home to another easier on them, try gradually decorating as you would for any other holiday–put up a Christmas tree immediately upon arrival then add more decorations over time until it is completely decked out! Easing the decorating over a few days may help with overstimulation and allow them to enjoy the new decor daily.
Present obsession: Some people on the Autism spectrum may become fixated on a particular gift or item they want. If this starts to happen, try being direct and specific about the number of times they can mention it. It may be helpful to remind them of other gifts they received last year to help them not obsess over one particular toy they may, or may not get this year.
Visiting and visitors: When you have visitors over, set aside a space that is just for your child. He or she should be taught ahead of time what it means when they feel overwhelmed by too many people in one place and need their haven (a private area). You can teach them how to leave an uncomfortable situation using this technique as well; if things are happening at someone else’s house where they feel uncomfortable, let your child know beforehand that they can go to a designated space just for them. Having a designated calming area will help prevent any surprises later!
Holiday Traveling: Holiday traveling can be stressful for most people, especially those on the Autism spectrum. Make sure you have their favorite foods, books, or toys available and prepare them via social stories that explain what will happen if there is an unexpected delay in travel plans, as well as how to get through a plane ride. For those on the Autism spectrum it can, be difficult adjusting when they first board the aircraft. If flying isn’t something your loved one has done before it may also help him/her feel more at ease by onboarding early so they know to find their seat.
Prepare them for visitors and family: One way to prepare your child on the Autism spectrum for holiday visitors is to prepare a photo album of the friend and family that will be visiting. Your child can view these photographs and prepare themselves for upcoming visitors. Talk to them about each person so they are familiar with who they will be seeing.
Gift giving: Giving gifts is an important part of the holiday season. While it may seem like a simple task, there are many things to take into consideration before you give your child their present! If they already know what’s coming and want nothing else for Christmas other than another toy from last year; try talking with them about how grateful we should feel when someone gives us something new.
Prepare family and friends: Helping family members understand your child’s preferences can help minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents. If they prefer calm discussions, provide them with suggestions for how best to participate during this time of year without embarrassing their loved one who is on the spectrum–such as staying neutral if an upset episode occurs so it doesn’t escalate into something worse.
Food and sugar intake: When caring for someone on the spectrum, it is important to make sure that they have food available they like and can eat what they desire. Try limiting sugar intake as much as possible while still maintaining their routine of meals throughout the day so temperament and sleep doesn’t get disturbed!
Ease anxiety: Know your loved one with ASD. Know how much noise and other sensory input they can tolerate, their level of anxiety in certain situations (e.g., meeting new people), etc.; if you detect that a situation may be overwhelming for them then help find some quiet area where they’ll feel comfortable regaining control over themselves before returning into the fun again!
Don’t stress—plan and practice holiday fun. And most of all, have a wonderful holiday season!
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