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Getting the Most out of the Holiday Season


by Linda Griffin, Parent Advocate Director

The holiday season is upon us – a time of joy and excitement.  But for parents of children with autism, it may only bring excitement (also known as chaos)……and very little joy. Sometimes this lack of joy is simply because we have unrealistic expectations. We’ve seen too many idyllic scenes depicted on cards and on television. But real life doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting for most of us.

Many of our children do not enjoy caroling, holiday parties, special treats, shopping, decorations, hectic schedules, or visiting friends and relatives. Uh-oh.  Does this sound like all the things that will be happening at your house?  If so, let’s revisit holiday expectations and consider what adjustments can be made so that both you and your child can enjoy the days to come.  Here is a list to consider:

  • Plan ahead.
  • Display a calendar – include activities, parties, and travel details. Be sure to note the dates and times of when you will leave and when you will return.
  • Use a daily schedule so that your child is aware of what will be happening during the day. This can reduce anxiety.
  • Use visuals– less talk amounts to more effective communication.
  • Use social stories to prepare children for rituals and traditions.
  • Consider what traditions might not work for your child – visiting Santa, attending parades and/or concerts, decorating every room of your home, etc.
  • Remember sensory issues that might adversely affect your child’s experience of sights, sounds, smells, and touch. Try to make accommodations, such as ear plugs, headphones, or a distracting toy.
  • Allow your child to retreat from activities if necessary.  If you are hosting at home, let him retire to his room. If visiting friends or relatives, create a private space designated especially for him.
  • Educate friends and family about your child if you will be spending time with them.

This last suggestion brings me to another point: whenever you can educate others about your child, it will pave the way for good relationships all around. However, there are some folks – including those in your own family – that will not “get it.” They may question your parenting skills or think your child is a brat. Take a deep breath and remember that you cannot change another person. You can only offer information. It is up to them to accept it. If that doesn’t happen, then it is a problem that belongs to them – not you.

Sometimes happiness is a choice we make. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or others. Balance the excitement with peace and the joy with quiet moments. Connect with other families who have children with autism to share your feelings and experiences. They can understand your life like no one else can. Learn to laugh. Find joy. And may your holiday be very merry.

Linda Griffin can be reached at or 919-865-5090.

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