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Tips to Prepare Children with Autism for the Holidays

The pandemic has changed life for many of us, but this year's holiday season may see things returning to a kind of normalcy. A return to normal, however, is not what someone with autism will experience over the holidays. Holidays bring change, changed routines, changes in environments, changes with crowds and new people, and change, any change, is challenging for a child on the autism spectrum. Reuniting with family over the holidays can be stressful for these children as it disrupts schedules and breaks routines.

As you begin to anticipate the coming of the holidays, here are some helpful tips for you to consider to help your child on the spectrum prepare, cope, and ultimately enjoy the holidays. Following these tips can help your family create a more inclusive and safe holiday season and experience for everyone.

1. Plan, Prepare, and Discuss with Your Child

Depending on your child's level of anxiety when new events occur, you will have to decide how many days in advance you want to begin preparing them for any changes. Use a calendar to mark the day of a holiday event and count down the days and talk about the upcoming changes, festivities, and fun to be had. You can also use a social story to help them understand what the event will involve. Knowing in advance, so they are not taken by surprise, can help both of you enjoy a new experience.

2. Include Your Child in Decorating

The holidays typically mean putting away room decor that has been out all year. These items your child is used to and expects to be in certain places. When you put those away and replace them with holiday decor, it can be disruptive. It can be confusing and disconcerting if they suddenly walk into a room that has been transformed while they were in another area. You could start with gradually decorating or planning to decorate various rooms first, second, and third.

Make your child part of the decorating process. Ask them about their favorite or important items and then tell them that certain pieces are only going away for a short rest and will return once the holidays are over. Include your child in the decorating so they can see and experience the change in decor as it happens. It may be helpful to show pictures of past celebrations where decorations were present, why they are there, and how different the room looked for a short time.

3. Be Ready to be Flexible

No matter how much we try to prepare for events, the unexpected is always possible. If your child decides they do not want to be part of activities, be prepared to be flexible and accommodate those wishes. Discuss multiple ways they can let you know if the festivities are too much, using a PEC card, “safe word” or preferred toy they can use to communicate their discomfort. Carry a bag of preferred activities that may occupy your child and comfort them. Forcing an event on a child with autism can result in a bad experience for you, your child, and other family members. Try picking another time or day if possible, or be prepared to just not attend certain events. Remember, many people who give advice are well-meaning but do not fully understand or even know what autism is… thank them and wish them happy holidays!

4. Prepare for any Unusual Travel

If your holiday events involve traveling, you will want to prepare your child in advance for what they can expect. If you are traveling by car, you can put together items that will help occupy their time while driving. Use a calendar to show them how many days you will be gone, or a clock to show how long the drive will be. If you are traveling by plane, you might want to take a pre-visit trip to the airport to show them how the process of getting on a plane will happen. A social story and mask training is recommended to reduce the discomfort associated with required masking.

5. Create Some New Traditions

The above tips should help with the upcoming holiday events so you, your child, and other family members can enjoy the season. There are other things to do that can make the season easier by creating autism-friendly traditions. These ideas include incorporating your child's favorite character into your decorations or stagger decorating to allow them to adjust to the change slowly, make gift wrapping, giving or opening presents a game, having them participate in making their favorite foods, and talking to other parents, prepared family, and friends, and check with your local autism organization to learn more about how to prepare your child for the holidays.

Where to Learn More About Preparing a Child with Autism for the Holidays

ABA Pathways is committed to helping families find solutions for their autistic children in learning appropriate behaviors and better communication skills. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been proven successful for interventions for both children and adults, and through love and understanding, we are here to help you and your child find a brighter future.

Talk to one of our experts today and learn how we can help your child with autism enjoy the upcoming holidays with less stress and anxiety. You can also learn about our holistic, patient-centered comprehensive ABA Programs to foster the future growth of your child.

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