As the holidays get closer, many families are faced with finding ways to prepare themselves. When a family member or members has an autism spectrum disorder (or ASD), the holiday season can be difficult. Becoming aware of the holiday challenges for children with autism is the first step in learning how to accommodate your family members and change your behavior for the better to make sure they have the most enjoyable time possible.
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are all bright, loud celebrations that can overwhelm individuals with ASD, especially children. Learning how to address and accommodate holiday celebrations with children with Autism now lays the foundation for wonderful celebrations in the near future. Ascend Autism can guide families and caregivers through the holiday challenges facing children with autism and provide support.
Ways to Address Holiday Challenges for Children with Autism
The holidays can be stressful for adults and children alike. For children diagnosed with ASD, the holidays can present unique challenges. Without a proper plan of action, parents and caregivers may be caught off-guard when children begin to have difficulties. Therefore, it is important to lay the groundwork for the holidays early.
One way is to create a photo album (digital or physical) with images of guests, friends, and relatives that may be coming to visit. This allows children to become familiar with people in advance of seeing them. It can increase familiarity and reduce shyness and anxiety in individuals with ASD. It is also an excellent way to work on a child’s social skills. Tell the child details about the person so they ‘get to know’ them in advance.
Decorations are a major part of Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, for individuals with ASD flashing lights and sounds can be overwhelming. If parents and caregivers are able to engage and include children in the decorating process, it can help prepare them for encountering other decorations outside the home. Also, it can be a good way to encourage a child’s creativity and self-expression. Once holiday decorations are in place, establish clear rules about what can be touched and what can’t. Be direct, specific, and consistent.
Helping Support Children with ASD during the Holidays
Not only will the stores be full of holiday music, but there will also be lights and plenty of other noises. This can overwhelm the senses. Familiarizing children with ASD with these types of stimuli is the first step, but one should also reach out to friends and family and let them know a child’s limitations. Responsible adults will accommodate everyone.
For individuals hosting friends or family with someone with ASD, keep the following in mind:
- Social requirements like hugs or kisses might be unpleasant for children with ASD. This doesn’t reflect on anyone personally. Abstain and allow children to come to you.
- Eating and diet can be a major issue for children with ASD. Talk to parents and caregivers to learn what kinds of foods the child will like and make sure those are available.
- Guests or relatives may think a child is misbehaving, not realizing the child can’t help their actions. Make sure all adults know their place and don’t overstep their boundaries. Talk with the child’s parents to learn what is and isn’t acceptable and convey it to all guests.
The holidays often involve travel, new faces, and large get-togethers. All of this can be very overwhelming for children with autism spectrum disorder. Even though the pandemic may see travel muted slightly and reduce family gatherings, there are still numerous challenges individuals with ASD face. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare that anticipate issues and help make children feel more at ease during the holidays.
At Ascend Autism, our autism parenting training can give families the coaching they need. We apply the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) tailored specifically to each individual and fully comprehensive to address and promote core functional capabilities.
We offer various services for treating autism spectrum disorder and have committed ourselves to help children and families succeed. These include: