When we think of the upcoming holidays, we think of memories with family, lights and decorations bringing with them a distinct sense of joy, and exciting activities all month long.
Yet, with the holidays comes a layer of anxiety: getting the house in order, finishing up your gift-giving list, and having the kids home from school for two weeks. The break in routine can be unsettling for us all, and even more so for those on the autism spectrum.
In order to make the most of the holidays, the team at Springtide has developed a list of ways to help your child, and you, enter this time of the year with excitement and confidence.
1. Include Them in Decorating Your Home
Many children with autism struggle with change in routine, and that includes the decor of the house and where certain items are placed. If your child finds these changes challenging, consider these ways to help them through the transition:
- Decorate in steps: maybe the tree first, if you are decorating for Christmas, then the outside decorations, then the inside. That way the child has time to work through the change.
- Include them in the decorating so they feel more control over the situation.
- Show your child photos of past holidays so they are prepared for what the end result will be, and become more comfortable with the changes.
- Take the child to choose some decorations to add. They will feel heard, and will be excited to choose where to place the items they found.
The more input they have in the process, the smoother it will be for the entire family.
2. Prepare for Events Visually
Using visuals, like a daily schedule for days off of school or or a paper chain countdown to the holiday, can help bring structure to a more unstructured time of the year. One option is to make a calendar that marks all of the significant dates with a small picture that shows what to expect. Once the calendar is up, consistently remind them of those upcoming events and what to expect.
Writing a social story of what they can expect and how to behave during that time can reduce potential anxiety. For younger children, adding visuals to the social story is a vital component.
3. Remind Them of Relatives and Visitors
The holidays are a time we tend to see people we don’t normally see throughout the year. Being in a crowded environment can be overstimulating to many children with autism, especially when they aren’t familiar faces.
To prepare them, consider showing your child photos of the people you will see prior to the event. Discuss the family members or visitors with them. Bring up past memories, a little bit about each person, or anything else to make your child more comfortable with the people they will be seeing.
4. Role Play Exchanging Gifts
The gift-giving process can be extremely difficult, as it involves many advanced social skills: taking turns, waiting, specific ways to communicate, and hiding potential disappointment. For this reason, role playing possible scenarios can help you and your child avoid awkward situations.
Practice taking turns opening pretend gifts, and include a sibling if possible. Model how to ask for a break when you need it. Include how to accept a gift your child may not want, and practice waiting for others to open gifts first.
5. Plan a Safe Space
Inevitably, there will be challenging times throughout the holiday season. It can help in these times to have a designated space where your child can take a break.
Discuss with your child upon arrival or prior to the gathering or event where the space could be and how they can signal to you that they need a break. Then, if your child is exhibiting signs of overwhelm, accompany them to the space or, if they prefer, simply direct them to it.
6. Maintain Predictability When Possible
As always with children on the autism spectrum, the more you stick to the routine and make your day-to-day life predictable, the easier it will be. Enjoy the holiday season and all it has to offer, but maintain the basic structure your child is accustomed to as much as you can. Bedtimes, mealtimes, and any quiet time or downtime should continue to stay the same when possible.
It’s difficult to get past expectations for the holidays, and sometimes, when you have a child with autism, that is a must. Always choose what is right for your family and navigate the season with confidence, knowing that you truly know your child best.
If you are looking for guidance or support on navigating the holidays, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our expert BCBA’s and RBT’s are experienced in helping your child prepare for handling new environments.
Reach out today and speak with one of our enrollment specialists to get started with Springtide