The holidays can be overwhelming for any of us. When a child lives with autism, though, many things can be especially challenging. Sources of comfort — like their normal routine — get stripped away and replaced with things that can be overstimulating, like new people and environments. The sights, sounds, and smells of the season can quickly feel like too much.
You want your child to be able to enjoy what many consider the most wonderful time of the year.
Fortunately, with some tools at your disposal, you can help them do just that. Here are a few ways to support autistic children during the holiday season.
Helping children with ASD prepare for the holiday season
Talk with your children before the holiday plans start to let them know what they can expect in light of celebrations. Explain what will happen in as much detail as they’re ready to process.
For activities outside the house, explain where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. Call out anything that you think might get them excited (e.g., “When we go to grandma’s house, you’ll get to play with the car toys there”).
Start these conversations well in advance. If you begin introducing them to what’s coming now, you can help to eliminate some of the newness and fear of the unknown that can come with holiday activities.
Changes in your home can also feel disruptive, so put some preparation work in there, too. You might show your child a picture of the Christmas decorations from last year before putting them up this year, for example. Or if new people will be coming over, talk about them and show your child pictures of them in advance.
Incorporate their passions
Many kids with autism have areas of specific interest, like trains, dinosaurs, or certain types of movies. The holidays offer a time to celebrate those interests.
Bring them up at the family dinner or when everyone is sitting around enjoying each other’s company. You may even want to brief friends and family members on the interest area beforehand so they can have something to talk about that your child will enjoy. Even if your child feels socially overwhelmed and doesn’t participate in the conversation, kids enjoy the opportunity to sit and take in people talking about something they like.
Those interest areas can also give you a great source of gift ideas, too. Consider sharing their favorites with anyone who might get them a gift. Getting a treasured toy can distract from the challenges of a missed routine.
Have a backup plan
Make a plan for what you’ll do if your child experiences sensory overload while you’re at a holiday event. If you’re going to a family member’s house, for example, you might ask them if there’s a quiet room you could use. That way, you have a place you can take your child to help them escape the overstimulation.
Also, remember that you can always leave. Friends and family will understand that you’re prioritizing protecting your child. With that in mind, you may want to take your own car to events this holiday season.
We’re also here to help. To work with our team that specializes in supporting preschool-aged kids with autism, get in touch.