The holidays are in full swing! Although an exciting time filled with decorations, food, and family; it can serve as a recipe for overstimulation and high stress situations for individuals with autism. The American Autism Association has compiled a list of the top five tips to help make the transition into the holiday season the easiest and most enjoyable for you and your family.
1. Decorations Can be Disruptive: It may be helpful to look at pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house. If a photo book for the holidays does not exist, this can be a good opportunity to make one with your family. It may be beneficial to take your family member with autism shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are engaged in the process. Once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about what can and cannot be touched – unless of course you have completely interactive decorations!
2. Decorate Gradually: Decorating slowly and gradually can ease your family into the holiday season without overwhelming them. Engaging your family in this activity as much as possible in this process is beneficial.
3. Traveling Arrangements: Holidays are a time for travel, both near and far. Be prepared and bring activities that will keep your family comfortable throughout the journey. You can pack a special travel bag that includes materials that he or she is interested in – or just make sure that iPad is fully charged! Prepare for the journey through an airport by practicing required protocol, such as taking off shoes or putting your child’s personal items in a bin to go through the x-ray scanners, or watching a video online of what the airport check in looks like. Understanding protocol and restrictions can help to manage expectations for your child.
4. Communication: Communication is key to help things run smoothly. If you are visiting friends or family, it is a good idea to ensure that your family is educated on your family’s special needs. To do so, you can get information beforehand about if there are pets, other children, and the kinds of food that will be served, and explain to your family what they can expect so they can feel more comfortable with the change of environment.
5. If some social situations are overwhelming, teach your child how to safely leave the scene or ask for help: If you are having visitors over for the holidays it’s a good idea to have a space set aside for your family member as their personal calming space. You should go over this with your them ahead of time so that they know to go to space when feeling overwhelmed. This self-management tool is great because it can help them well into adulthood. If further assistance is needed, you can develop a signal or cue for them to let you know when they’re feeling nervous or overwhelmed. For those who are not at that level of self-management, develop a signal or cue for them to show when they are getting anxious, and prompt them to use the space.
Wishing you a merry meltdown-free holidays!