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Tips for Navigating the Holidays

December 16th, 2019

The holidays have come around again, a time which we usually associate with happiness, family, and togetherness.  But we also know that sometimes when you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorders  (ASD), the moments that should be peaceful, feel anything but.  Whether it’s because of changes to routine, the stress of travelling, or the pressure of family gatherings, we’ve compiled some strategies that you can use to help keep the happiness in your holiday.

Changes to Routine
Some children benefit from following a routine.  If you know your child’s routine is going to be disrupted (school closures, attending events or gatherings), you can help prepare your child for that change.  You can verbally prepare your child for the upcoming change, or you may choose to use a visual schedule.  Examples of visual schedules can be found here.  

Each child is different, so it may take some practice to figure out how much preparation your child needs.  One child may need to know days in advance about a routine change, whereas another child might handle the information better as the change is nearer.

Travelling Tips
If you are anticipating a long drive, it may help to plan breaks into your trip.  Plan ahead and bring activities that are comforting and calming for the ride.  If you are travelling by plane, do your best to avoid being rushed in the airport.  If you need any special considerations, contact the airline’s disability assistance department.  This could include early boarding, or even a visit before the trip to learn what to do in the airport. 

Family Gatherings
Plan ahead.  If you know your child won’t eat the food at a particular gathering, is there something you can pack ahead to bring for him?  Identify places your child can go if she needs a break from the noise or stress of family events.  Noise-cancelling headphones may be an option if you cannot identify a quiet room or calming area.  Do your best to make sure that family members know how to respond if your child engages in challenging behavior.  

Holiday Experiences
Sometimes holiday experiences can be overwhelming to a child with ASD.  If your child seems overwhelmed by the Christmas tree, consider using fewer decorations or adjust the lighting to one that is comfortable for your child.  Consider adding decorations to your house a few at a time so that your child can get used to the changes.  For visits with Santa:  If your child has difficulty waiting in lines, a spur of the moment visit to Santa may not be ideal.  Some malls allow you to schedule your visit with Santa to prevent having to wait in line.  You may also consider using an app to have a video chat with Santa instead.

Start Early
Don’t wait until the holidays arrive to identify challenges and skill deficits.  If you feel like you need assistance addressing certain challenging behaviors, or that your child lacks important skills, you may discuss Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy with your pediatrician.  During ABA therapy, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst will use assessments to identify challenging behaviors or skill deficits, and then develop a plan to teach replacement behaviors or new skills.  ABA therapy is an intensive therapy, and many providers have wait lists, so it’s important to seek help early.  Learn More about ABA Therapy at Siskin Children's Institute. 

Author: Rebecca Brooks, LBA, BCBA | Siskin Children's Institute

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