The winter holidays mean lots of family, friends, food, noise and hugs which can be very hard for those with Autism. There are several things you can do to prepare your Autistic child. These can actually be great for all kids who need a little reassurance or have anxiety issues.
1. Surround yourself with those who know and love your child. Sometimes, holidays mean time with family that you do not see often. Be sure that in any situation, you have a few people who understand and will help others to know the best way to approach your child. My son will connect with a few people, so I make sure that one of those people is close by in a situation like this.
The hardest part for me is dealing with all of those who want to hug my child. They mean well, but this is horrible for my son. For this reason, I have someone nearby to reassure my child or explain to the relative that he is not comfortable with that.
2. Prepare your child by telling your child what is about to happen. He or she may not be responsive but talk about it often. Talk about what he or she can expect, who will be there, what will happen.
3. Have a special quiet place specifically for your child. This is a place to which he or she can escape to avoid the noise and people. Keep other children out of that space and let everyone know that that is his or her quiet place.
4. Have calming things on hand. Headphones, books, a tablet or whatever else your child finds comforting and entertaining. Have this easily accessible and pull it out for your child when he or she needs something else on which to focus.
5. Prepare family members, especially siblings. Siblings are often the biggest protectors! Explain to him or her ahead of time that their sibling may have trouble and may need their brother or sister to help.
6. Decorations and Location: If you are having this gathering at your home, you can control the level of lighting and stimulation. That is always my preference. I can make it so that it is not so overwhelming for him and because it is a familiar environment he will naturally do better.
If you are going to another location, work with the hosts to see what accommodations can be done for your child.
Consider your child’s sensitivities when decorating. You may find that you need to avoid blinking lights or loud music. Your child’s needs come before everyone else’s.
We all want the holidays to be perfect but maybe your perfect is different from what others call perfect. In our home, having happy and comfortable children makes it the perfect occasion. Some alterations to traditions may have to be made. Your good friends and family will be happy to join you in these new traditions or ways of celebrating.
Most of all, remember that it is about family and warm memories! Embrace your family, your situation and your friends. Make it the perfect holiday for you and your family!