Posted:
December 14, 2022

How to Prepare Your Child with Autism for the Holidays

How to Prepare Your Child with Autism for the Holidays
Guide
Courtney Keleher, M.Ed., BCBA, LABA, LBA
Author

Adam Dreyfus

Specializes in: Verbal behavior, functional communication, behavior support planning, ABA insurance funding, Early Intervention, organizational behavior management, strategic planning.

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AnswersNow.

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It’s a Holly, Jolly Christmas…

Except when it isn’t. While the holiday season is a time for families to come together and celebrate in their own unique ways, it can also involve stress.

Regular routines are disrupted as kids are home for extended school breaks, and families are either traveling or hosting family who have traveled to stay with them. This can be challenging enough for families with typically developing children, but it presents an especially challenging time for families of children with disabilities. In addition to all of the ‘normal’ disruptions, there are also changes to therapy and medical appointment schedules. 

One of the benefits of telehealth that AnswersNow clients and clinicians have embraced is the flexibility and availability of our clinical support over holiday breaks. Our clinicians are happy to work with families on a support schedule that works for them and their changing schedules. 

The challenge facing families during the holidays is often two-fold. 

  1. One, how to prepare their children for events that are unfamiliar to them. This can include any ‘new’ event on the calendar but certainly includes family get-togethers, Holiday specific events (selecting a tree/holiday festival at Church/a parade/tacky light tour). These can be wonderful, memorable events and we always encourage families to include their children in as many activities as possible but can also be anxiety-inducing events as parents and caregivers worry about meltdowns and children reacting to unfamiliar events. 
  1. Two, while the focus can sometimes be on events outside the home, events inside the home can be just as challenging. These can include having large family gatherings and/or holiday parties. 

So let’s go over some tips for a smooth holiday season:

1. Introduce adjustments and new schedules beforehand

We all know most children on the autism spectrum struggle with changes to their schedules and strongly react to ‘surprises’ in their routines. We recommend introducing any changes ahead of time.

Two really good ways to do this are:

- Stories: there are many to choose from and we encourage you to visit your local library but here are a couple we like:

- Visual Schedules: these are a proven evidence-based method for helping individuals on the spectrum understand ‘what’s going to happen next’ and reduce their anxiety related to schedule changes.

Here is a ‘get started’ on how to make visual schedules from the National Professional Development Center

2. Ask for Help, or a ‘Present’ for you

Please know that it’s okay to ask for help. Most families have a relative who would be happy to ‘lean in’ and help by caring for your child for an hour, an evening or even an overnight stay. It’s okay to say yes to this or to request this as a specific ‘present’.

Yes, your child may require a lot of additional support but you also need moments to recharge, get shopping done, and have some quiet time. 

3. Create an escape plan

You don’t often hear about this but it’s good to ‘plan’ for when an event does not go well. The best solution is to have an ‘escape plan’ in place in case your child struggles with a particular event or even has a meltdown. You’ll want to identify whose role it is to ‘leave’ with the child. Frequently, this means bringing two vehicles to the event so one parent/caregiver can leave without disrupting the event for everyone.

Having a specific ‘emergency/crisis’ plan in place reduces everyone’s anxiety and can help make the holidays more relaxing and festive for everyone. 

If you are a client of AnswersNow please feel free to reach out to your clinician with any questions or support you may need in implementing any of these suggestions. They are all experienced with these techniques and are happy to help you put them in place. 

AnswersNow wishes you and yours a healthy and happy Holiday Season.

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