LANSING, Mich. — When asked which parts of the holidays are difficult or stressful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Dr. Braden Josephson, Chief Clinical Officer for Centria Autism answered, “Everything.”
“The end of the year is an exciting time for most, but for a child with autism, the entire season can be overwhelming,” said Dr. Josephson. “Schedules are different, bright decorations transform familiar spaces, and endless socializing can be a lot to handle. Spending a little prep time can go a long way. Fewer surprises help make it more fun for everyone.”
Here are some steps parents can take to help a child with autism enjoy the season.
- Try not to miss out on ABA therapy - Try and maintain the child’s therapy schedule as much as possible and when appropriate weave in holiday related learning (e.g., singing holiday based songs, playing particular games, etc) . If they miss hours, try to schedule make up the time. ABA therapy is an important part of a child’s routines and can help reduce the stress of school breaks and holiday hustle and bustle.
- Avoid surprises and always plan when possible - Changes to routine can be hard for children with autism. Whenever possible, make a schedule with photos so that they know what to expect at parties, outings, and other events. Try to stick to routines. Maintaining your child’s usual breakfast and bedtime can give a sense of comfort during a busy holiday season. Calendars are helpful. You can even schedule a weekend when decorations will come down.
- Decorate gradually - Don’t put all your decorations up at once. Add them gradually to allow for your child to adjust at each step. Have them hang decorations with you and be a part of the decisions you make. Use this time to label, request and plan out activities that have sequences (“First you put the _____.”)
- Don’t fret about the food - It may seem like a good time to convince them to try something new, but it really isn’t. The holiday season, and parties in general, aren’t the best times to work on expanding ASD kids’ diets or palates - when things are chaotic and unfamiliar. If you are hosting, let them pick some menu items. If visiting another home, take favorite foods and snacks that are comforting and familiar to help them through. When unknown, feel free to contact the host to find out the menu and to let them know you will bring food, and don’t expect the host to make any dietary accommodations.
- Bring along comfort Items - Allow your child to bring items that he or she finds comforting. Allow them to pack a small bag with their favorite items like iPads with headphones, toys, books, blankets, anything that will sooth the child if the situation becomes overstimulating.
- Secure a quiet space - When visiting someone else’s home, ask the host if there is a room or small area that can be designated as a quiet space. Show this space to your child and allow them to leave their items there. If at home, make the child’s room off-limits to anyone other than that child.
- Don’t force - Children with autism can become overwhelmed by new sights, sounds, food, and people. In an attempt to protect themselves, they may completely shut out sensory information by withdrawing or engage in self-stimulatory behaviors. Encourage your child to participate, but don’t force them to sit for hours of gift exchanges, look people in the eye while speaking, or to hug every person at the party.
- Let go of expectations - Some people with autism have a hard time understanding the nuances of traditions and celebrations. Expecting them to have the same level of excitement as the other guests, can be a setup for disappointment. Let go of the notion that any celebration must go a certain way in order to be a success. Instead, focus on making the event as enjoyable as possible for the entire family.
● 1 in 59 children have autism
● Centria Autism helps parents of children with autism navigate through the complex system of insurance, care and just knowing that they are not alone.
● Centria operates in 11 states and employs over 3,500 experienced and trained staff and services thousands of children.
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