Making the Holidays Bright for Children with ASD
Many people look forward to the holidays year-round–after all, it is the most wonderful time of the year! But for children with ASD and their families, this season can bring many disruptions to regular routines.
The obstacles that come with ASD add additional stress to the hustle and bustle. And that makes appreciating this time of year difficult for many.
This holiday, don’t just survive–enjoy them. With a few tips and the right preparation, your child with ASD will be able to better cope with the changes.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
Planning is essential for most children with ASD, although it is also vital to decide how much preparation your child might require.
For example, if your child becomes anxious when she thinks about upcoming events, you might want to change how early you tell her.
As you plan for the holidays and prepare your child, use a calendar to mark when various events take place. Alternatively, make a social story illustrating what will take place at each event.
Let Them Join the Decoration Process
If your child finds holiday decorations disruptive, look at pictures from past holidays. It will remind them what the house looked like in previous years.
If you don’t have an album, make one this season. Some children with ASD appreciate going to the store with you to pick out decorations.
Also, ask your child to decorate with you. Once you finish, clarify which decorations are okay to touch and which ones are not.
If your child struggles with changes, consider decorating your home a little bit at a time. For example, set up the Christmas tree one day, and add the ornaments the next. The most important thing is letting your child be apart of this process.
A visual schedule detailing your decorating plans might help your child prepare for the changes to come.
Be Direct and Honest About Gifts
If your child starts obsessing about a particular item they want for Christmas, be candid about how much they can talk about it.
Give your child five M&Ms so they can give you one candy in exchange for a few minutes of talking about the gift.
If you know that you aren’t going to buy them the gift, don’t tell them that they might get it. Doing so will only cause future problems.
Make sure you are honest and precise about your plans.
Additionally, you can rehearse gift opening in advance, including waiting for their turn and giving presents.
Practice different situations with your child in anticipation of her receiving something she didn’t want.
Guide Them at Gatherings
Children with ASD might become quickly overwhelmed with holiday events. Avoid meltdowns and teach them how to make an exit when they start feeling overwhelmed.
When you have guests over, designate a specific “safe space” for your child where he can go to be calm and quiet.
Let your child know ahead of time that they should go to this room when they feel overwhelmed. This idea is an excellent self-management tool skill they can use as adults.
But, some children might not have that degree of self-management. If so, decide on a signal to alert you when they become stressed so you can remind them to utilize their space.
For children with more considerable hurdles, exercise calmly using this space at different times before visitors arrive.
Go with them into the room and join them in relaxing activities. Play quiet music, rub your child’s back, dim the lights, or do whatever calms him.
Later, if your child becomes overwhelmed, gently take him from a stressful situation and into a safe place.
Create an album with photos of family friends and relatives you will invite to visit during the season. Leave it in a place your child can easily access it any time.
Go through the photos together and share stories and information about different relatives with your child.
Discuss your strategies with other relatives to reduce your child’s stress levels or behavioral incidents.
Inform them about your child’s preferences to personal space, desire for calm discussion, or other ideas to create a smoother holiday gathering.
Preparing for Holiday Travel
If you plan on traveling during the holiday season, make sure to pack your child’s favorite belongings.
Familiar items will help your child relax, so have them readily available just in case.
Social stories can go a long way to help your child prepare for unexpected delays or even just practicing for boarding and flying.
If you are flying and it is your child’s first time, consider taking them to the airport beforehand so they can get used to airports and planes.
Prepare Yourself, Too
The holidays mean that you and your child might encounter new people who aren’t familiar with your situation and who offer their two cents.
It could be an out-of-town relative or a total stranger, but if someone offers unwanted advice, smile, and let them know you’ll think about it.
Happy Holidays from Sandcastle Centers!
The right planning and preparation can make the holidays a memorable and enjoyable time of year for parents and children with ASD.
For more information, send us a message online or give us a call today.
In the meantime, you can always check out the Blog for more resources and support.