Preparing for the Holidays

December 1, 2015

“Tis the season to be merry and bright, right? Decorating, shopping, family gatherings and, of course,  gifts are some of the mainstays of the holiday season.  Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years, however, can bring both good cheer and a large dose of stress and anxiety especially if your family has a child on the spectrum.  The over-stimulation alone is enough to frazzle even the most well behaved children (and adults).  So, how then can families make this season joyous and festive without stressing everyone out?  Here are a few tips from parents and experts alike.

  1. Decorating – Children and young adults with autism (or who are on the spectrum) are not good with change.  Nor are they good with overstimulating environments.  Therefore it is important to decorate wisely.  Have the child take part in choosing decorations and have a hand in putting them up.  Decorate in steps so that the change is more gradual. Keep decorations that blink, flash, or have music to a minimum.  Revisit pictures from past holidays to remind your child what it looks when finished.  A calendar of what to decorate each day may also be helpful.
  2. Shopping  – While some people enjoy the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, it can be a nightmare for people on the spectrum.  If your child wants to accompany you on a shopping outing or to help pick presents for relatives, try to go early when the rush of customers tends to be lower.  Allow for lots of time since the stimuli in each store may distract you from the ultimate goal.  Have your child create a list if possible to stay on track.  If you know that certain gift stores (like toys) may set off your child then you will want to avoid those areas. Remember there is always online shopping!
  3. Visiting with Family – If attending family parties or dinners is on your schedule, planning ahead can make a world of difference.  Let your child know where they are going, who will be there, what foods will be offered (bring favorites) and how long you will be there.  Try to ensure that a favorite toys is brought along and that there is a quiet place to go if things become too overwhelming for the child.
  4. Gifts!  – Who doesn’t love getting a special gift?  Remind your child about giving and receiving by role playing at home.  Practice taking turns, waiting and being polite.  These are not easy things to master so don’t set those expectations too high especially with all the stimuli.