Holidays are a joyous time to spend with families. But for families of someone with an autism diagnosis, this time may be challenging. With holidays come crowded gatherings, schedule changes, and unpredictable events all which may be difficult for people with autism to handle. How can all members of your family participate in holiday festivities? Here are 10 strategies that may help.
- Prepare with pictures of people. Prior to a gathering with many people, show them pictures of who will be there. Let them know in advance who they will expect to see.
- Pictures of locations. You can also show pictures of places you will go, whether a restaurant or someone’s house. If your child gets more anxious from hearing about future events, then you may want to hold off showing the pictures until the day of.
- Prepare with a schedule. A schedule of events for the day can help prepare children for what to expect and help with changes in routine. This can be a list of words or pictures of each scheduled event.
- Be specific with details of events. Whether preparing them with a schedule or simply explaining the plan for the holidays, give as much detail as possible. Tell them the names of the people you will visit, not just that you are visiting relatives. Instead of “We are going shopping,” tell them exactly what stores you are planning to go to and show them the shopping list.
- Practice behaviors that will be required of the child. Practice opening gifts, saying thank you, waiting for others, and giving gifts. You may even want to practice accepting unwanted gifts in a friendly way. Set up scenarios so the child has an opportunity to practice. This will help the child know what to expect and help them be successful.
- Maintain what you can. Try to keep some routines the same. Holidays can be extremely hectic. Some people with autism tend to prefer routines so try to pick and choose what you will change and what will fit into their routine.
- Bring highly preferred activities, toys, etc. to have something familiar and items to occupy time. Or if your child enjoys novelty, save new items to promote engagement at unpredictable times.
- Have a plan of escape or place to take a break. Social gatherings can be stressful for you and your child. Plan ahead of time for a room in the relatives house where you can go for a break. Or if it is a lot of shopping, maybe take a break in the car allowing the child to engage in a preferred activity.
- Bring preferred food. If your child is a picky eater, bring food they will sit at the table and eat. This way you can all eat together.
- Inform others ahead of time. If spending time at other people’s homes during the holidays, make sure to let them know what to expect and what can help all of you promote an environment in which everyone can participate in the festivities.
If you are receiving ABA therapy consult your BCBA for how to help prepare your child for the holidays during your ABA therapy sessions. Try to enjoy the holidays and remember to take time for yourself! Happy Holidays!
McClannahan, L. E., & Krantz, P. J. (1999). Topics in autism. Activity schedules for children with autism: Teaching independent behavior. Bethesda, MD, US: Woodbine House.