The holiday season is chaotic for any family, but for families living with and caring for children on the autism spectrum, it’s a new level of super-charged chaos. Here are a few tips we’ve gathered over the years, both from experience and from other parents.
Your child has sensory issues. Blinking lights are a bad idea. Period.
Thinking outside the gift-box
Many kids have a hard time opening presents because they don’t like the sound of tearing paper. Others have made paper- tearing a hobby. Use gift bags or cloth material to wrap gifts for those who are sensitive.
Having people over for a holiday gathering? Be sure to let your child know what to expect such as who will be coming, and how long they will be staying. Also, give your child permission to hide in their room or another designated area where they can decompress if necessary. And keep that area off-limits to everyone else.
Doing some traveling? Be realistic about how much transitioning your child can do effectively during the course of a day. Going new places and meeting new people can be extremely taxing on kids with ASD. Identify a place (even the bathroom works) where your child can go to decompress if needed. Bring a pair of headphones or earmuffs for your child so they can block out the noisy hustle and bustle of the season.
Use picture schedules or social stories to help your child know what to expect. Respect their desire to opt out of the things that are too overwhelming. Also remind them of what kind of behavior is appropriate where you re going. Telling your child to “Be a good boy” is vague and doesn’t mean anything to them. Telling them to say “Thank You” when they receive a gift, makes it easier to comply.
Smells of the Season
Be aware of the over-abundance of scented products during this time of year. If your child is sensitive to smells, that pine-scented candle or peppermint hand soap may just be enough to push them over the edge of meltdown mountain.
Give Up Control
Give your child as many choices as you can. When a sensitive child has choices they feel more in control and will in turn be more willing to go with the flow.
Quit While You’re Ahead
Don’t wait until your child is sensory overloaded to leave the party. Decide how long you think they can last and then decrease it by an hour. Better to leave while your child is in a good place and call it a successful outing than push your luck.
Create new traditions when the old ones don’t work out. Those glass ornaments that were handed down from your great- grandmother may not be the best idea if your child likes to rearrange tree ornaments daily. Rather than constantly scold them for it, why not make the tree their own by replacing with plastic and paper decorations.
If your child is a “runner” or tends to wander off, designate someone to be in charge of watching them when you cannot. (We all have to use the bathroom sometime.) Use a piece of ribbon to tie on your wrist or a santa hat for a visual “hand-off” when it’s another person’s turn. Being specific and intentional about who is watching your child can put your mind at ease.
You may even get to drink a few sips of eggnog.