How to Best Prepare Your Child with Autism for the Holiday Season

How to Best Prepare Your Child with Autism for the Holiday Season

The holidays can be a difficult time for children with autism. The often overstimulating gatherings of unfamiliar people, places, food, and noises can create a stressful environment that differs from their daily routine expectations. However, there are gradual steps you can take to prepare your child and ease them into these changes. We of course want them to enjoy all of the festivities and family get-togethers.

Create an Outline for the Day or the Trip

Most families and children with autism have a daily routine that they follow at home. Kids with autism thrive off of consistency. By creating an outline for the day or the trip, this can help them to understand what to expect. It’s important that they know what will happen. This can help to avoid confusion and anxiety.

Bring Toys and Activities to Occupy Time

By bringing some of your child’s favorite toys and activities, your child will have items that they’re familiar with. This will help bring a sense of normalcy from their everyday routine. Having activities that they love to do will also keep them occupied throughout the day or during the trip, especially if the trip involves a long time sitting down.

Plan Mealtimes Ahead of Time

Mealtimes often present challenges for many families, particularly if your child is unfamiliar with the food options that will be available. Encourage your child to try new foods, even if it is just one bite. If your child will not eat anything outside of their comfort zone, bring a separate meal and additional snacks that you know they will eat. You can even bring your own plates and utensils that you use at home for more familiarity. 

Have an Escape Route, a Plan B

Both you and your child need to know what will happen if you get too much family fun. What will you tell your family, and where will you go to get away? Is there a quiet room available? If not, can you head home or go to a quiet park? Assess your options ahead of time. Just remember that it’s OK if your child needs to spend some time alone amid so much excitement.

‍Keep Decor Simple

Reconsider decorations such as blinking lights or decorations that make sounds that are distressing to your child. As much as possible, help prevent sensory overload. Also, put decorations up little by little over time. Start with one part of your home or one type of decoration and slowly add more. Ask them to help and incorporate what they like. 

Build in Fun!

Whether days are filled with errands or time at home, consider letting your child choose a couple of activities each morning for the day ahead. Here are some suggestions that might work for your family:

  • Bake something together
  • Do holiday arts and crafts
  • Take a drive to see holiday lights in your neighborhood, zoo, or garden
  • Help with decorations or gift wrapping
  • Sing along with holiday music

All in all, remember that preparation is essential. Involve your kid in festive activities. Give them options to choose from. Be gentle, understanding and patient. You can still have a wonderful and cherished holiday season that everyone will enjoy!