There are a number of steps parents can take to make the holidays peaceful for their child with autism. This time of year can be tiring and overstimulating sometimes even for neurotypical children, but autistic children and their parents have some extra obstacles to overcome. Below are a few tips for getting through the holidays.
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Autistic children thrive on routine, and the holidays disrupt routines. Parents should try to avoid putting their children in stressful situations such as airport travel and should make sure they generally keep the same bedtimes and times for getting up. Children should not be expected to give up their bedrooms in order to host out-of-town guests. On the other hand, parents should keep in mind that over time, autistic children may also adjust to the yearly ritual of the holiday and want certain traditions each year.
Make Social Preparations
Friends and family members may need to be prepared in advance that an autistic child may not want to interact with them in the same way a neurotypical child might. The Organization for Autism Research suggests writing scripts for children and role-playing to help them practice for various situations they will encounter during the holidays. Receiving some types of gifts can also create challenges for some autistic children. Parents may want to warn others against gifts that are noisy, have flashing light or are overstimulating in some other way.
Deal With Stimuli
There are other ways children might be overstimulated during the holidays as well. If they will be visiting friends and relatives during the holidays, parents might want to arrange a quiet room ahead of time for the child. Noise-canceling headphones can help in some holiday environments along with sunglasses to cut down on sensory overload. Parents may want to bring food with them that does not create sensory issues for their child. They should also choose holiday clothing for the children that do not cause sensory distress. Making the holiday peaceful for children with autism means thinking about how to make all aspects of the child’s environment more peaceful.
Scale Down Demands
Parents and their children will probably enjoy the holiday more if they attend events that do not have rigid expectations in place for how children should behave. As an article in the Daily Beast suggests, church services where the child’s questions or other behaviors will be frowned on may not be the best match. Parents who do want to attend church services can choose seats that are some distance away from where most of the activity will take place. Children should not be expected to sit quietly at tables throughout entire meals if they do not want to. Overall, parents and children should spend their time with people who will not judge them.
The holidays seasons shakes people out of their ordinary routines and can be noisy and chaotic. While this is fun for a lot of people, it can be overwhelming for others, and children with autism have particular challenges. However, by adapting holiday traditions to take their child’s needs into account, parents can make the holidays peaceful for their child with autism.