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6 Ways to Reduce Stress for your child with Autism during the Holiday Season

Happy Holidays to all our Beacon Day School community members! We hope you have some special time planned to spend with your child this season as many families gather close. The holiday season is a time of delight for many people, but for children with autism spectrum disorder and related disorders, it can cause upsetting changes to their daily routine. Colorful decorations, busy gatherings, changes in schedules, and even expectations from family and friends can all create anxiety for your student. As a result, parents often transform into ABA therapists or even event directors as they navigate children's time off from school. Begin early in preparing your child for the holidays. These methods can help your child and family have a more pleasurable holiday season.

Incorporate a sense of normalcy in your schedule

Try to stick to known habitual patterns, such as mealtimes and bedtimes, and make every effort to maintain consistency even though your child is out of school. Attempt to integrate familiar classroom activities, such as morning meeting or reading time, into your child's daily routine at home.

Social stories, clear schedules, and other visual aids are fantastic methods to let your kid know what is expected of him during out-of-the-ordinary activities such as plane travel, gift-giving, and holiday parties, and can assist your child grasp what is coming. Use “first/then language” with the pictures to break down the day clearly.

Be aware of overstimulating decorations

Preparation and starting small are the best ways for you and your child to adjust to a new festive environment. It can be confusing because decorations are only displayed once a year. Before putting anything up or bringing anything out, let your youngster know ahead of time how and when you want to decorate.

Encourage your child to participate as much as they’d like in the decorating process. Allow them to watch from a distance if that is more comfortable for them. They can be visually or auditorily engaging (particularly holiday lights, trains, or snow globes), leading youngsters to want to touch or play with them. If possible, discuss the expectations of not touching specific decorations. To avoid overstimulation, limit the number of decorations with flashing lights and music.

Remember that during the holidays, shopping is busier and more hectic than usual. Attempt to go shopping during less crowded periods, such as weekday mornings. If you can, visit the store ahead of time so that you may prepare or plan to prevent your child from experiencing potentially triggering situations.

Have easy expectations for guests and gatherings

It may be more beneficial for your family to offer to host any holiday guests or gatherings. This provides your child with their own place and a sense of security and normalcy. Your child's sensitivity and restrictions should be made clear to guests, so they know what to anticipate.

A large family dinner is frequently a part of the holiday celebrations. Issues can arise such as incompatibility with your child’s diet or food preferences. Pack a meal ahead of time so that they can participate in the family dinner without the anxiety of food-related stressors. Feed your child a healthy snack at home before the party. This is an easy way to avoid high-calorie, unhealthy party foods that may be tempting before dinner.

Practice gift exchanges

Practice exchanging presents ahead of a family event. Often, the most difficult part of the process is the waiting. It might be difficult for children with autism to comprehend why they couldn't open some gifts right immediately. Open all gifts at once or take a break between each one if the wait is too long. If your child is distressed by the wrapping paper or opening process, consider taking the paper off before they are given the gift. For your child’s comfort, do what works for your family.

Prepare well to avoid breakdowns

If a breakdown occurs during a holiday celebration, provide plenty of quiet space, downtime, a thick blanket, even a calming toy. An effective tactic is providing headphones or sunglasses, or to go into an area where your child can be alone. Don't be afraid to walk away if something about the celebration is to upsetting for your child.

Having their favorite toys packed in their own bag, as well as using a visual schedule to make sure they know where they're going and who they're going to visit before leaving the house might also be beneficial.

At gatherings and activities, monitor social interactions with earplugs, books, or other tools on hand. Be sure to give reminders or warnings before a transition or event is expected during celebrations. Be prepared and make every attempt to ensure there are no unexpected surprises. Having a recovery day at home can also help your child decompress from all the excitement.


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