For many children with autism and their families, December is certainly not the most wonderful time of the year. Holidays will wreak havoc on careful schedules, diet and familiar comforts. Can you make merry for the family without making things unbearable for your child on the autism spectrum? At Alzein Pediatrics, we are here to help make this season bright for everyone!
Prepare your child for what’s going to happen
Create a calendar for both you and your child. Enter your family parties, any cookie making, decorating, gift wrapping, religious services, and special holiday events like skating or concerts. Counting down to your family’s big day by explaining what will happen each day, and sticking to those tasks consistently, will be an enormous help in relieving anxiety.
Involve your child.
Engage your child throughout the season to ensure she is comfortable with everything that is happening. Talk to your child about decorations, lights and music, visits to parties or events, and respect and honor their reactions, their likes and dislikes.
Familiar surroundings give comfort to a child with autism, so suddenly covering everything with glitter and tinsel can be disturbing and upsetting. Take it slowly. If you have photos from previous years, show them to your child while discussing the decorating schedule. On your calendar, mark what decorations will go up when – and stick to it. Assemble or install your tree one day, and then add the lights the next. The following day, add your ornaments and then tinsel on the last day.
Practice receiving gifts.
If your child is asking for a particular gift that he or she will not receive, be honest and upfront about that immediately. Role play with your child about opening gifts and being respectful to the giver. Work on waiting your turn, not opening another person’s gifts and brainstorm ways to react if your child receives a gift they do not like, such as just saying, “Thank you very much.”
Prepare your child for the relatives and visitors you’ll see during the season.
This is another place that photos come in handy. Show your child photographs of everyone they will see and on which days, explaining who everyone is. You might assemble a collage of participants for each individual party or gathering, so your child knows exactly whom to expect when.
Prepare a safe space for each event.
If you’re hosting, make sure your child understands they can “check out” in their bedroom or another favorite quiet place at any time during the gathering. At outside events, make sure there is a quiet place and show your child that space as soon as you arrive, explaining they can ask you to take them to this spot whenever necessary. When you notice your child becoming irritated or anxious, guide them to the spot and soothe them.
Talk to your family and friends.
Support your child by giving hosts a “heads up” about any accommodations you think your child may need to enjoy the event, be it that safe space, familiar foods, hugging, conversation topics or more. Getting pushback? Reassess whether it’s really worth it to attend a gathering where your child is not respected, understood and loved.
As you can see, preparation and planning will make this a happy holiday season for your child and your whole family. Remember that the key ingredient to making the winter holidays a success is love; loving your child for who they are, respecting their talents and challenges and treating them with dignity at every moment.
Any questions? We are always happy to help! Just call 708-424-7600. We are here to answer any concerns!