Parties, champagne, a family dinner, counting down the last 60 seconds before the arrival of the New Year; while these are joyous aspects of the day’s celebrations, they can be overwhelming for those diagnosed with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects communication and sensory experiences, and the hustle and bustle of New Year is jam-packed with triggers that can affect your child negatively.
But worry not! Here at ABA Centers of Florida, we understand the difficulties and compiled a list of things you can do to ensure an autism-friendly New Year.
Recognize Your Child’s Triggers
Understanding is the first key to addressing or adapting to your child’s behavior and ensuring an autism-friendly New Year. Every child is unique in their own way, and just as they have interests and talents that set them apart, they have triggers and different levels of tolerance for stimuli.
For example, is your child good at communicating with others but they are agitated by loud music? Do they dislike bright lights? Are they a picky eater? The personalized nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder means every autism-friendly New Year will also have to be individually tailored.
Part of understanding your child’s triggers is a matter of observation and time, but through therapy, one can truly grasp their extent. This is why early intervention is essential, as the rapid identification of areas your child struggles with can make a world of difference in addressing challenging behavior. Knowledge is power, and knowledge of the way your child views the world can help you plan for an autism-friendly New Year.
Explain the Context
Those diagnosed with autism have trouble breaking out of their comfortable routine. They may view the New Year’s celebrations as an unwelcome imposition. This mindset does not mean celebrating is impossible, as being differently abled does not mean being incapable. Your child can comprehend incredible things, and with some patience, they may be able to understand the purpose of the day.
Start by explaining to them that every 365 days, the Earth completes a full trip around the sun, and we choose this opportunity to reflect. The day is not a break from what they love but a chance to think about everything that makes them happy. Building positive associations toward an autism-friendly New Year can be as simple as having a fun conversation where you do your best to explain without hurry or frustration.
Fill the Autism-Friendly New Year with Joy
Although you can tell your child that the day is a celebration of what they enjoy the most, the best way to ensure an autism-friendly New Year is to prove it. What are your child’s hobbies? If they enjoy painting, make sure they get a little extra time to show off their skills. If they like a particular game console, give them access for an extra hour. The point is to add to their day instead of removing from it.
A popular tip is to assemble a box of things they enjoy, that way, they are always close to a reminder of the positive nature of the day. A helpful tip is to set aside a safe space for your child that others are not allowed to enter. If they get overwhelmed, they may excuse themselves at any moment and take a breather. Giving your child the room they need will help them participate in the autism-friendly New Year at their preferred pace.
Get Them Used to Stimuli
The most important part of an autism-friendly New Year is ensuring your child feels safe and comfortable expressing themselves. This is impossible if you don’t prepare them for sensory-heavy experiences like watching fireworks. The same tip above about a box of things they enjoy can be replicated to give your loved one a bite-sized experience of what to expect.
Take a box and fill it with confetti, sparklers, decorations, or anything else you might consider using in the autism-friendly New Year. Let your child play with it and familiarize themselves with the items. Explain what each thing is for and be surprised as they adapt and approach the merriment in their own way. Additionally, if fireworks are an issue, show them a video ahead of time! Explain to them that it’s harmless gunpowder in the sky. If you deem it safe, the sparkler can come in handy for acclimating them to the lights and sounds.
The same trick works if they are a picky eater. Those diagnosed with autism may sometimes have strong food aversions. Getting them used to the food you will be serving in a piecemeal way can ready them to eat without complaint on the big day. Common strategies are pairing food they don’t know with the food they like or cooking new food in a similar style to something they enjoy.
Remember always to be understanding. Just because you expose your loved one to stimuli doesn’t mean they will like it. It may take months or years of ABA Therapy administered by experts for them to build healthier behaviors. Make adjustments if there are lines you must not cross, such as an absolute aversion to loud noises or an early bedtime that precludes them from joining the countdown! Instead of live fireworks, TV fireworks will suffice. If the sound from outside is too loud, give them a weighted blanket and their favorite fidgeting toy. If they wish to go to bed, do an early countdown with them, so they aren’t excluded from the experience. There are clever and creative workarounds that ensure an autism-friendly New Year remains fun for everyone.
Make Social Expectations Clear for an Autism-Friendly New Year
Part of the New Year will be socializing, which can be challenging for neurodivergent loved ones. Building on the continuing strategy of planning and acclimation, you should show your kid a picture of everyone attending. Explain who the guest is, why they are coming, and a fun fact about them. Your kid will know what to expect and feel free from mingling with strangers.
Just as it is vital to prepare your loved one for guests, it’s important to set the correct expectations with anyone coming into your home or contacting your child. Ahead of time, clearly explain your child’s condition and things guests should avoid. Is hugging a trigger? Try a handshake or a wave instead. If the volume is an issue, ask them not to yell. The most important thing to make your guests aware of is any aggressive behavior or self-harm and how to best avoid it.
If your guests are bringing kids, implore them to have a conversation with their child about how to treat yours. It doesn’t have to be complicated, such as “treat them as you would treat a brother or sister that you care about.” Getting everyone on the same page is integral for an autism-friendly New Year.
ABA Centers of Florida
ABA Centers of Florida knows that the holidays can be difficult for some people. Whatever challenges you and your family are facing, we are here to help. With the help of our ABA specialists, clients with neurodivergent needs learn the skills they need to engage in family get-togethers and festive occasions. With research-backed ABA Therapy, we make a real difference in the self-esteem and growth of neurodivergent kids.