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Tips To Enjoy The Holiday Season With an Autistic Child

Tips To Enjoy The Holiday Season With an Autistic Child

 Guest post by Kristine Kenny, MSN, RN, CPN, CAS

The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year but also very hectic for parents. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can get easily overwhelmed by all the events and interruptions to their routines and schedules. This can lead to increased anxiety and possible meltdowns. To keep the holidays merry for everyone, this article will discuss helpful hints so everyone can enjoy the season. 

Tips To Enjoy The Holiday Season With an Autistic Child

1. Physical Health and Well Being

Some things to consider for your children as they enter the holiday season are the general health and well-being of the child. Are they rested and well-fed? Are they tired and sleep-deprived? Keeping your child in general good health will set the stage for the season. Ensure that your child’s immunizations are up to date including receiving the flu shot. Viruses such as the flu are often spread very easily during holiday gatherings.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends flu shots for children over the age of 6 months and yearly.

 Tips To Enjoy The Holiday Season With an Autistic Child

2. Sensory Considerations

Very Well Health states that it is important to remember that those with ASD have a lower sensory threshold and are not trying to “ruin” the festivities of the season. Keep this in mind as you look around and experience the season. Here are some things to consider.

  • Visuals

Flickering Christmas lights, lots of moving objects, and decorations can be visually stimulating for some children but also overwhelming for others. Adjust according to your child’s needs. Sensory-friendly lights are available now in most stores. Consider sunglasses for your child if needed.

  • Sounds

Family gatherings and events can get very loud and overstimulating for some children. Add in Christmas music and it can be too much. Monitor the sound around your child’s environment and adapt as necessary. Consider headphones to block out noise if needed.

  • Touch

Dressing your child in fun Christmas clothing may look nice, but if your child has tactile sensory issues, certain fabrics can easily irritate a child with sensory tactile issues. Look for comfort and products that your child likes as opposed to frills and uncomfortable clothing.

  • Taste

           The holidays bring with them many different foods, drinks, and treats.  Monitor     your child’s diet during these times. Too much sugar or overindulging can cause an increase in unfavorable behaviors.

If your child has food restrictions, aversions, or food allergies, bring your own food with you to events. Try and bring a special treat for your child as others indulge in festivities so they do not feel left out.

  • Smell

Be cognizant of the different smells and aromas in your home during the Christmas season. Candles, different cooking foods, pines, etc. can cause the over sensitive nose to be stimulated.  

Tips To Enjoy The Holiday Season With an Autistic Child

3. Planning for special events, outings, and time off of school

Look for autism-friendly events where you live. Many local organizations provide these events where your child can enjoy Christmas festivities without the chaos that surrounds the season.

Before attending any outing, consider asking the host if there is a quiet area for your child to go to if they need a break. Once you arrive, show the space to your child and let them know this is where they can go. Make the space as cozy per the child’s needs.

Plan for structured time for your child while they are off school. Providing a routine for their days off is a key to helping them cope with their time off. It will give them a sense of control over their days off knowing what is happening and help decrease anxiety and unfavorable behaviors.

4. Social Stories, Visual Calendars, and Visual Lists

Prepare your child with ASD for new events they may be attending. Utilize social stories and pictures of the places that you will be going to help increase understanding of the event. If you are going to a friend’s house or relative, see if they can send pictures of their home or FaceTime them for a visual tour before the event to help prepare your child.

Once you have made a plan for while your child is off of school, make a calendar so they understand visually how the days are going to look. Use visuals from Google images or real ones. When the day arrives make a checklist. Keep in mind, life does happen and you may have to adapt, but having a plan in place will make your child feel more secure in the day-to-day hustle of the season.

5. Things to bring to special events:

  • Charged electronics that the child uses
  • Bring any of the children’s toys that they enjoy – maybe keep a special toy for the event- like a puzzle or sensory toy.
  • Ear defenders to block out noise or headphones.
  • Weighted blanket or any comforting item that the child may use.

Tips To Enjoy The Holiday Season With an Autistic Child

6. Plan B

Expectations can run strong during the holidays when you are dealing with multiple tasks and family/friends who may not understand your situation. Your sanity and your family is what is most important. You know the situation the best. Very Well Health recommends if other siblings are in tow, know in advance which adult will take the child with ASD out of the situation while others can stay and enjoy the experience. They also recommend if the event is in your home, allow your child to retreat to their room or play space when they need a break.

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Key Takeaways

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year, but realistically also an exhausting time. Changes in routines, time off of school, and sensory overload can be triggering for children with ASD. Keeping their needs at the forefront and planning accordingly will help to make your holiday season more merry and bright for yourself and other family members. Call on the help of friends and family to help you so you can have time to care for yourself and the rest of your family too.

Kris is a mom of 3, one of whom has autism. She is a pediatric nurse, assistant nursing professor and author. When she has free time, she enjoys exercising, baking and binge watching TV series. Learn more about her at Autism Healthcare Books!

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