Autism-Friendly Holiday Tips

“Autism does not take a break for the holidays. Although the holidays can be a great time to bond with family, you will know that with a child on the autism spectrum, the festive period comes with its fair share of challenges. Here are some survival tips for the holidays, so you and your child can truly enjoy this time of year.

1. “Less is more! Inviting friends and family over for the holidays sounds fun. Still, this can be challenging for your child to process. The more people in your house, the less autonomy your child experiences. More people means added social expectations and more chances of those on the spectrum becoming overstimulated. Your home is a familiar environment for your child, but having people over can interrupt their ability to ism (stim) and self-regulate. Your child requires plenty of time and space to adjust to having guests over. You may even also feel obliged to get your child to participate in the festivities when they are not ready.

2. “Avoid the crowds! Holiday events and shopping can be stressful times for anyone. It can be extremely overwhelming for our sensitive children to be in crowded places. Internet shopping and grocery delivery are wonderful inventions that allow you to avoid the mall and skip the grocery store. Another option is to ask a family member or a trusted friend to watch your child at home while you brave the crowds yourself. Although taking your child with you may be tempting, leaving them home means you’ll be more likely to avoid having a tantrum or a meltdown.

3. “Eliminate the electronics! Well-intentioned family members may want to buy your child gifts during the holiday season. Traditional toys, such as books, trains, dolls, or arts and crafts, allow our children to use their developing brains for creative play. Electronic toys containing batteries, flashing lights, or screens can be overstimulating for those on the autism spectrum and add to holiday stresses. Be authentic with your relatives and make some suggestions for gift choices. They are looking to you for guidance on what your child would enjoy. Maybe your child has stimming behaviors, such as shaking a string or drawing pictures. Allowing them to freely stim without electronics will help them self-soothe and provide the predictability they crave to make sense of the world around them.

4. “Dietary dilemmas! If your child is on a special autism diet, the holidays can be one of the most challenging. Everywhere you turn there are temptations of gluten, casein, sugar, and chocolate. Spend some time preparing foods in advance that your child can eat. Educate those you might spend time with during the holidays about the foods you would like your child to avoid. Have plenty of healthy choices to offer your child as an alternative. Ask for their help and support to make this happen.

5. “The importance of The Son-Rise Program playroom! The most valuable and supportive environment for your child throughout the holidays is The Son-Rise Program playroom. This nurturing environment provides your child with a low-distraction experience where they can play and be themselves. Even if other things are happening and you are spending more time than usual as a family, there is a workaround. Coordinate with your family, so each person can take turns being with your child in the playroom. Even a couple of hours each day over the holidays will be a godsend for your child. And it will help them thrive.

“Have fun and Happy Holidays from The Autism Treatment Center or America!”

Becky Damgaard, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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