The holiday season can bring joy – and challenges – for families who have one or more members with autism.
The Autism Society offers Twelve Tips for Helping Individuals with Autism Have a Happy Holiday Season. The first few tips are summarized below. To see the full list visit their webpage.
- Teach your family member with autism how to leave a situation when an event becomes overwhelming. If you are having visitors, have a space set aside for the child as his/her safe/calm space. The individual should be taught ahead of time that they should go to their space when feeling overwhelmed.
- If you are traveling for the holidays, make sure you have their favorite foods, books or toys available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations. Also, prepare them via social stories or other communication systems for any unexpected delays in travel.
- Prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Allow the person with autism access to these photos at all times and also go through the photo album with him/her while talking briefly about each family member.
- Practice opening gifts, taking turns and waiting for others, and giving gifts. Role play scenarios with your child in preparation for him/her getting a gift they do not want. Talk through this process to avoid embarrassing moments with family members.
- Prepare family members for strategies to use to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents. Help them understand if the person with autism prefers to be hugged or not. If the individual becomes upset, it might also be helpful to coach others to remain calm and neutral to minimize behavioral outbursts.
Above all, know your loved one with autism. Know how much noise and other sensory input they can take. Know their level of anxiety and the amount of preparation it may take. Know their fears and those things that will make the season more enjoyable for them.