The holiday season can be joyful, exciting, and full of magic for many children and their families. The events, decorations, get-togethers, presents, lights, and music can make for some beautiful family memories. But when it comes to autism and the holidays, things can get a bit more complicated. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it goes without saying that plenty of challenges still come with the season.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have an autism-friendly Christmas or holiday season! There are plenty of practical things you can do to prepare your child and family for the upcoming holidays. We’ve put together a list of tips to help you and your family have a fun and enjoyable autism-friendly Christmas season.
Autism and the Holidays Can Be Fun and Festive With These Tips
One of the most important things you can do is prepare for the holidays. Of course, preparing for a sensory-friendly Christmas means you have one more thing to add to your to-do list, but in the end, it’s 100% worth it!
Tip #1: Create a Plan
Children with autism love predictability. They also rely on it. Knowing what to expect from each day, activity, or event means there are few surprises. And that makes for an enjoyable experience for your child with autism and your whole family.
If you have events and activities to attend, mark them on the calendar well in advance and prepare your child for each one since it’s a change in their typical routine. Consider using social stories with images of what to expect and refer to them often leading up to the event.
Tip #2: Stick to Routines As Much As You Can
Speaking of routines, we know it can be challenging to stick to your typical routine around the holidays. But when it comes to autism and Christmas, it’s a good idea to try. If there are events to attend several days in a row, it will most likely disrupt your routine considerably.
If this is unavoidable, do your best to ensure other routines, such as bedtime and mealtime, stay the same. The more predictable and similar to their typical daily routine each day is, the more likely your holiday season will go smoothly.
Tip #3: Establish Your Family’s Own Traditions
One idea to help you have an autism-friendly Christmas is to establish traditions that are all your family’s own. Sure, some families go caroling or attend holiday parties galore and never miss a year sitting on Santa’s lap. But that doesn’t have to be your family.
Because children with autism love routine and predictability, it’s no surprise that most typically enjoy traditions. Consider starting a new sensory-friendly activity you and your child can look forward to year after year. It could be seeing a sensory-friendly Santa or letting your child have their own Christmas tree full of decorations of their choosing. Get creative!
Tip #4: Avoid Sensory-Overload As Much As Possible
To you, the holiday lights, decorations, music, and sounds of the season may bring you comfort and joy. But for your child with autism, that’s most likely not the case due to sensory overload. There are things around the holiday season that may overstimulate your child that you may not even think about, like:
- constant jingle bells in some songs
- tearing of wrapping paper
- flashing or sparkling lights
- strong holiday fragrances
- the surprise surrounding wrapped gifts
You know your child best, so include what you think your child can handle in a sensory-friendly Christmas. You don’t have to wrap gifts. You can avoid the sensory overload of anticipation about wrapped gifts by keeping them unwrapped and out of sight. Or you can wrap them and put a picture of what it is on the outside.
If you still want to wrap gifts, but the tearing of paper is too much for them, opt for gift bags with tissue paper.
Tip #5: Set Expectations With Your Family and Friends
Chances are your family may already be aware of your child’s needs. But for whatever reason, people can be sensitive about holiday traditions. Before any get-togethers with family or friends, talk with them about what they can expect from your child. Let them know that you may bring your own meal for them, and it has nothing to do with their cooking – children with autism tend to like what they like when it comes to food!
Give family and friends tips and hints about what may be too challenging for your child and what they can and can’t typically handle without sensory overload. Setting expectations ahead of time can help you avoid challenging, stressful situations between you and your family.
Tip #6: Have a Plan B
You can do your best to prepare for dealing with autism and the holidays, but things can always go sideways. To avoid meltdowns in public and sensory overload, make sure you have a plan B in place. If your child becomes overstimulated at an event, get-together, or activity, it’s best to be prepared.
Consider bringing plan B necessities, such as calming devices, a weighted blanket or vest, and noise-canceling headphones, or have their favorite show ready on a tablet or device. Let your child know in advance that if things get to be too much, it’s okay to leave with you or perhaps find a safe, quiet place together.
Tip #7: Say “No”
It’s easy to get sucked into the fun and excitement of the holiday season and all of its activities. But for an autism-friendly Christmas, you have to maintain healthy boundaries. If you know an event will be too challenging for your child or don’t want to deal with the potential challenge, it’s really okay to say no to things. In fact, it’s recommended.
Tip #8: Take Care of Yourself
One of the most crucial tips for preparing for autism and the holidays is to take care of yourself. As a caregiver, experiencing burnout is easy if you aren’t careful about it. You may spend so much time preparing for the holidays to ensure it’s a sensory-friendly Christmas that you could run yourself ragged.
Don’t forget, your child will pick up on your stress level. So it’s essential to take some time for yourself. Ask for help from trusted family and friends to get even a little respite.
Ensure Happy Holidays With the Help of ABA Therapy
At the Autism Therapy Group, we aim to help children with autism and their families live fulfilling, enjoyable, productive, and happy lives! With the help of our compassionate team of autism specialists, we can help your child improve communication skills, self-care, behavior, and social skills using highly-effective ABA therapy techniques.
When your child is enrolled in an ABA therapy program at The Autism Therapy Group in Lombard, IL, or any of our other locations, they’ll gain the tools and skills they need to reach their full potential. And, because we understand how valuable your role as a parent is in their success, we make sure you are involved in the therapy process too.
Through early intervention and continued ABA therapy, you can ensure happier holidays this season and for life!
Contact us for more information about enrolling your child in ABA therapy in Illinois, Wisconsin, or Texas. We have beautiful ABA therapy clinics in Lombard, IL, and San Antonio, TX, and offer in-home ABA therapy in:
|• San Antonio
• Eagle Pass
• Del Rio