The holiday season is a time of joy and sharing with family and friends, when most people enjoy a well-deserved break from school and work, savor delicious and traditional dishes, share pleasant moments with loved ones, and enjoy cheerful decorations and memorable songs. However, it is crucial to remember that autism and the holidays can present particular challenges and stressors. Changes in routine, sensory overload, and social expectations can overwhelm children coping with autism. Still, with proper planning, parents and caregivers can create a holiday experience that is inclusive and respectful of their needs. Neurodiversity should not impede enjoying the traditions of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, or any other family holiday this winter season.
In this autism-friendly holiday guide by ABA Centers of Florida, we will explore eleven tips to help you navigate these holidays when you have a child with autism.
- Creatively explaining Holidays – This season can be confusing for children with autism, as each celebration entails unique social practices and codes that differ from the rest of the year. Neurodiverse individuals may struggle with recognizing social cues and interactions, making facilitating their understanding of these festivities necessary. You can employ creativity to explain Thanksgiving, Hannukah, or Christmas celebrations. Utilize storytelling, visual aids, movies, and books as valuable tools. Autism Speaks offers a selection of teaching story templates where you can get some inspiration. These resources will assist your child in comprehending the expectations of each celebration and help them prepare for the day.
- Prepare Your Child for Holiday Events – During this time of year, it’s common to have frequent gatherings where families and friends come together to spend quality time. It’s beneficial to prepare in advance to address autism and the holidays. For instance, you can create a guest list for your Thanksgiving dinner, explain their relationships with these people to your child, and share interesting facts about each guest that might pique their interest.Moreover, it’s crucial to consider the food aspect. Festivities typically involve many unique dishes, which can pose a challenge if your child is a picky eater. Introducing these new foods in advance is essential so your child can enjoy them. If you’re looking for tips on how to do this, check out these suggestions for overcoming picky eating in autism during the holidays.
ABA therapy can be a valuable ally in preparing your child with autism for the holiday season. You can consult your child’s ABA therapist to start preparations for family and friend gatherings and reinforce the skills and behaviors to help them thrive during the holidays.
On the other hand, if you plan to travel, preparation will be your best friend. You can consult this guide with autism travel tips from ABA Centers of Florida. During family gatherings and trips, it’s essential to include activities your child enjoys, whether painting, reading, watching a show, or a movie.
- Communicating Your Child’s Needs to Your Guests –Sharing your expectations with your child is just as crucial as doing so with your guests. It’s important to discuss with your guests how to create an autism-friendly and enjoyable environment during the holidays. Include requests to keep the music at a reasonable volume, understanding how to approach hugs or physical contact with your child, communicating which actions might trigger challenging behaviors, and, if there are other children at the gathering, understanding how your child finds it more accessible to play with them. By doing so, you can work together to ensure a friendly atmosphere for autism and the holidays, making it a positive experience for everyone.
- Maintain a Routine as Much as Possible – One of the most challenging aspects of autism and the holidays is dealing with changes in the schedule. Being out of school, encountering new places and people, and engaging in different activities and social interactions can trigger meltdowns in children with autism. However, providing a visual holiday schedule can help keep your child on track and maintain a sense of routine. Try to incorporate extra time for their ABA therapy sessions and minimize downtime outside of school by engaging them in activities they enjoy with regular breaks.
- Create an Autism-Friendly Environment – A fantastic way to approach autism and the holidays is by setting up a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of the celebrations, where your child can take breaks when feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or tired. Include their favorite items and allow them to enjoy this space at their own pace. It’s okay if they choose to rejoin the celebration or prefer to spend more time in this room. The key is to prioritize moments of quality over quantity.
- Be Patient – Holidays are all about enjoyment, gratitude, and sharing. It’s normal for unexpected things to happen, even if you’ve planned. Relax and allow yourself to savor the moment. Some guests may not adhere to the norms and cause moments of stress, but don’t let this ruin the occasion. Instead, focus on how you can provide comfort to your child. Items like noise-canceling headphones can be a great help. Consider autism and the holidays as an opportunity to create new traditions.
- Ask for Help – Building upon the previous tip, having allies, whether your family or friends, can greatly assist. They can help explain to others how autism can impact your child’s interactions and stress the importance of avoiding disruptive or aggressive behaviors. These allies can also provide support when dealing with a stressful moment.
- Dealing with Social Anxiety – The best way to address the social anxiety triggered by autism and the holidays is by respecting your child’s communication preferences. Using words can sometimes be stressful for individuals with autism. Family members need to understand and honor their communication preferences. There are various ways to connect. Instead of talking, you can play a game or engage in an activity. Don’t force your child to stay in a room or pose for photos. Establishing and respecting boundaries is crucial in managing autism and the holidays.
- Enjoy the Holidays – While autism and the holidays may present additional challenges, finding ways to relax and reduce stress is essential for enjoying these family moments. Take time, walk, drink coffee or tea, and practice deep breathing. Keeping pressure to a minimum during the celebrations will help you stay calm, find solutions, and support your child in the best way possible.
- Bring Your Child’s Favorite Items – If you’re celebrating the holidays away from home, remember to bring your child’s favorite toys, such as books, video games, or comfort items, to help them feel at ease in new surroundings and during the celebrations.
- Check for Autism-Friendly Events – If you prefer to celebrate the holidays in environments specially adapted for children with autism, Santa Cares events are an excellent choice to help your child become familiar with the festivities and enjoy an inclusive and fun time. Santa Cares hosts events in various cities in Florida, such as Boca Raton, Tampa, and Orlando.
ABA Centers of Florida: Autism and the Holidays
Autism and the holiday season can be demanding and challenging for neurodiverse families. Our ABA therapy professionals are well-prepared and ready to assist you in navigating autism and the holidays by promoting the development of the necessary skills to succeed in your family’s unique traditions. For more information about how ABA therapy can positively impact autism and the holidays, please call us at 772-773-1975 or contact us online.