Pre-planning for the holidays increases the likelihood for enjoyment. Autism Spectrum Therapies provides the following tips for:
Reducing Holiday Stress for Families of Children with Autism
Holidays can be stressful and over-stimulating for anyone, but particularly so for children with autism. Here are some helpful strategies to lessen your child’s anxiety and increase your family’s enjoyment of the holiday season:
• Decorate in gradual stages, rather than changing everything at once.
• Allow your child to interact with the decorations and help put them in place.
• Flashing lights or musical decorations can disturb some children. To see how your child will respond, experience these items in a store or someone else’s home first.
• Last minute holiday shopping can be stressful for children who rely on routines.
• If you do take your child shopping, allow enough time to gradually adapt to the intense holiday stimuli that stores exhibit this time of year.
• Meet as a family to discuss how to minimize disruptions to established routines and how to support positive behavior when disruptions are inevitable.
• Continue using behavior support strategies during the holidays. Try social stories to help your child cope with changes in routine, and visual supports to help prepare for more complicated days.
• Try using a visual schedule if you are celebrating the holidays on more than one day (e.g., Hanukah) to show when there will be parties/gifts and when there will not.
• If you put gifts under the Christmas tree, prepare well ahead of time by teaching that gifts are not to be opened without the family there. Give your child a wrapped box and a reward for keeping it intact.
• Wait until just before the holiday to set out gifts, especially large tempting ones.
• When opening gifts as a family, try passing around an ornament to signal whose turn it is to open the next gift. This helps alleviate disorganization and the frustration of waiting.
• Prepare siblings and young relatives to share their new gifts with others.
• If necessary, consider giving your child a quiet space to play with his/her own gifts, away from the temptation of grabbing at other children’s toys.
Enjoy the holidays!