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The Holidays Are Here – Are You Ready?


This can be a challenging time of year for all of us, with gifts to buy, relatives’ visits to prepare for, and work to wrap up. For those with autism, the changes in routine, chaos of lights and sound, and social obligations can make life anything but joyful. We share these tips in hopes of making everyone’s holidays a little more peaceful.

Strategies to Consider:

  • Mark holiday events on a calendar or use a paper chain to indicate the number of days to an event. (Keep in mind that too much notice causes anxiety for some folks.)
  • Use a visual schedule to sequence events.
  • Provide a way to indicate a change in schedule.
  • Consider using a timer (or tangible number of objects) to indicate the end of an event.
  • Write a social story to share the details of an upcoming event.
  • If visiting a new place or people, consider sharing photos of these places and people prior to the event.
  • Keep routines as typical as possible.
  • Designate a “quiet space” in advance.  Share with the child where they can go when it is time for a scheduled break and/or when they feel they need a break.
  • Plan some sensory activities/calming activities during the day.
  • Have a “bag of tricks” ready at all times.
  • Share with family members the special interests of the child prior to your visit
  • THINK SENSORY and adjust accordingly!
    • Sights – blinking lights, multicolored lights, crowds of people, people wanting eye contact, furniture in a different location, and decorations
    • Sounds – loud sounds, multiple people talking at once, bells ringing, musical toys and ornaments, unexpected noises, music, and caroling
    • Tastes – may be picky eaters, may not appreciate new holiday foods, may not know when they are hungry or full
    • Smells – holiday aromas such as pine and cinnamon, baked goods, and foods
    • Touch – hugs, kisses, people crowded into small spaces, the texture of certain clothing, and sitting with Santa
    • Holiday examples: If the child generally sits at the table for five minutes to eat dinner, it is probably unrealistic to expect the child to sit for 10-60 minutes at the holiday table for a big dinner. If the child generally avoids hugging people, it is not realistic to expect the child to receive hugs willingly from family members, especially unfamiliar relatives. Our children might not be able to express gratitude for gifts or thoughtful gestures the way others might expect.
    • Help others be realistic by sharing your suggestion on what they can do to make the visit easier. For example: put away breakable objects; keep lights and music on a low setting; put foods that the child can’t eat out of sight.

We hope you find these useful. If you need family support, please find your nearest Autism Resource Specialist by clicking here. Our Chapters and Support Groups are also great resources. Look for one in your county by clicking here.

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