December 19, 2012

Managing Stress During The Holiday School Break

The following is written by Luke Walker, a Positive Behavior Support Trainer for the West Virginia Autism Training Center. In this article Luke discusses strategies to overcome holiday stress.
Transition from school to summer holidays or during the holiday break can be very difficult. Unstructured periods, or “down-time,” during the day can be a challenge for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and several days of unstructured time in a row can cause worry and apprehension for many parents.
Your child may become bored easily and often with all the excess free time, and this may become demanding of your time, attention and patience. The best approach to dealing with down-time is to strike a balance between structured activities and free-time.
Use your visual calendar:
A simple calendar of events will help your child plan and prepare in advance for upcoming activities. Fill in events in advance such as family outings, visits to relatives, vacations or casual recreational activities. Try not to over schedule too many events as this is a time for relaxing. One planned event a weekend is nice. Three or four can feel rushed and hectic. Leave room on the schedule for down time everyday for your child, where they can do whatever they want or if this is difficult present some choices of appropriate activities they may enjoy. Take advantage of the time to schedule in family time at the end of the day for talking, reading and relaxing together.
Rules and Routines:
It is often tempting to be more flexible during down-time and while this is appropriate for leisure activities, it is important to keep family rules and routines in place. This helps keep consistency which helps lower anxiety for individuals with ASD. If you do not have family rules and routines, now would be a great time to start. It can be especially tempting to let kids stay up later during these periods and while some is OK, even a little bit of sleep deprivation can lead to irritability and meltdowns.
Try to stick to scheduled bedtimes (within reason) and stick to scheduled chores too as well as other established behaviors. Playing video games or being on the computer all day should still remain off limits.
Community Resources:
Take advantage of community resources whether it is taking advantage of a “Sensory Santa” day at the mall or viewing Christmas lights/parades/displays. Doing role-play or prepping your child to what they could expect on these outings would also be a great idea. Be sure to give your child a choice of activity and only present choices that are available. Add these to your calendar in advance. The sooner you can start planning, the more likely you are to attend. 
Plan for at least one success every day:
Try to incorporate an activity that you child is good at or loves to do every day. You could also use this time to help make a small step towards a goal you are working on whether it is dressing skills or sitting still at the dinner table for 5 minutes.
Make use of technology.
This might be downloading a new educational game to your smart phone or allowing some time to play skill building games online. Computer time is often seen as a reward even though it is still a learning activity.
Teach calming techniques:
 These might be something simple like deep breathing, or more involved like yoga and meditation. They may be teaching your child to recognize scenarios that may be a challenge for them and teach them to ask for something that helps calm them. This could be a hug, spinning or a simple verbal cue.
Involve your child in your activities:
During the holidays, there are plenty of opportunities to complete tasks together, whether it’s writing cards, decorating the house or helping in the kitchen. Even if fine motor skills are difficult, or it is difficult to focus attention, you can involve your child in the last step of the activity (turning on the tree lights, icing on cookies, putting a sticker on cards) to enable more opportunities for success, satisfaction and reward.