The following is written by Bonnie Marquis, a Positive Behavior Support Trainer for the West Virginia Autism Training Center.
The holiday season can be joyous and everyone needs and wants to have a great break. But there is undoubtedly increased stress and sometimes a bit of confusion at what to do with all this extra time as well. Remember too that the excitement, anticipation and altered schedules make self-control much more difficult for those on the spectrum. Try not to ‘over schedule’ outings and activities but also try not to have too much down/unstructured time and excessive video/screen time. Such situations can be a recipe for meltdowns or make the transition back to regular schedules much more difficult.Providing a ‘schedule’ can be an enormous help. Some will need this presented visually, others are fine with simple text or even a verbal review of the day’s plan. But having a plan is key. Include a few personal or household responsibilities along with alternatives to screen time so that your child has something engaging to do, rather than just saying “Don’t be on your device” or “That’s enough, do something else”
ü Wake up
ü TV time (set a time limit)
ü Dress/brush teeth, make bed (maintaining part of the regular am routine for school)
ü Video game/screen time (with established time limit)
ü Walk the dog
ü Review/plan the day’s activity (trip to the mall, friend comes to visit, etc.)
These need not be rigid or tied to a strict time table, but it is helpful to everyone if there is a little structure to the day and it can help your child predict what will happen and what may be expected of him. Remember if you are visiting friends or relatives, even for a short time, it is a good idea to review some desired behaviors: “Remember Grandma has a lot of delicate items in her living room so you have to be careful in there” and some children may need more specifics, such as “When in there keep your hands in your pockets."In addition, you may need to have a talk about relatives wanting to kiss and hug your child. If your child is prepared for this they may not mind. But it may wise for you teach a script or phrase for a polite refusal. Relatives may also need a reminder that your child prefers high fives or handshakes if that works better or your child is non-verbal.
Daily physical activity is also important so walks, trips to the park or if possible indoor pools or ‘bouncy houses’ can be part of a day’s planned outing. If these are not possible try a ‘dance party’ in the house or choose one of the physical gaming options if you have one. Or, go low-tech and have an indoor snow ball fight! These can be really fun and physical. Turn up the music and use the end of the song to signal a break to regroup and determine if you want to do another ‘round’ or take some deep breaths and move on to something else. Grandma’s living room would not be the best setting for this however, so choose your space wisely. Simply use balled up wads of paper or make white pom-poms if you are feeling ambitious.If your child enjoys crafts try a new one or plan a trip to the store to pick something new. But know your child’s limits. If attention or detailed work are challenging be careful with your selection. Sometimes simpler is better – here are a few inexpensive ideas to try that can appeal to children with a wide range of skills, interests and abilities.
Links to activities:
Above all you want to have a relaxing and enjoyable time over the break. And while maybe all this planning and building of proactive strategies seems like more work, the pay off in terms of fewer meltdowns and reduced stress will make the effort well worthwhile. So have a wonderful, fun filled break no matter how you choose to celebrate it.