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Autism Holiday Celebrations 101: 10 Steps To Celebration Success

Helpful Tips For The Coming Holiday Season

Autism and holidays can have special challenges.  Holiday gathering and sensory overload create stressful situations for kids with autism spectrum disorder.

Holidays are interesting, in that we want to get together, but a little bit of a holiday tends to go a long, long way.   True story, we all feel it.  When you throw in a lot of people, food, loud noises and bright lights then spaces get crowded and rooms get overwhelming.

So in the spirit of having successful holidays, and thriving through the chaos, consider the following tips about how to modify the days to make them enjoyable.

Scale Back

This time of year we get out our fancy clothes, special china, and super special manners at the table. People come over that we only see once a year for a holiday meal

Nothing about a holiday follows the everyday routine.  

I remember the fanfare from my own childhood, and now that I have my own family we are much more laid back.  I keep the emphasis on having the family together and it works for us.

If you have family traditions, by all means keep them up.  Traditions create so many of the warm memories that we cherish.  We want our memories to be happy, so:

Are there different ways you could negotiate, such as:

Fancy clothes

Schedule changes

New and different foods

Family members staying in the house

Gatherings and events

Limit how many off-schedule choices your child actually needs to make this coming holiday season.  Keep sensory input low and enjoy your time together.

Have An Escape Plan

Create a calm space whether you are having a get-together at home or somewhere else.  Have a preplanned safe space for times of sensory overload.

Include familiar items like a blanket, pillow, favorite item, and lots of quiet.  

Quiet time could be in the child’s room or any new place that is free of extra people.

Make A Who's Who Book of Social Stories

Before your guests’ arrival create a short story about the whole family. This is a photo album of family members, friends and holiday visitors!

Aunts

Uncles

Cousins

Girlfriends

Stepparents

Friends 

The array of people can be confusing especially if you only see them a few times a year. 

This doesn’t need to be fancy, so put a groups of photos in a book complete with names.  Review the book a few times before the gathering and keep it close for reminders on the holiday.

Organize

A little bit of planning and organizing can go a long way.  A daily schedule planner can help with planning.

A planner with a visual schedule and all new activities highlighted can be marked ahead of time.  Change doesn’t have to be a surprise.

Don't Force

We are in the year of social distancing, so this one may not be a problem.

If being touched or hugging sets your kid off, pass.  Waving or saying hi is fine.  It really is.

Turn Down Advice

Isn’t is great when family members know how to handle your child?

Nope.  Not really.  

You can have a calm discussion with family and guests that you don’t need any advice right now.

Then walk on.  

Have A Time Limit

Happy holiday seasons can be defined on your terms.  

Do what works for you.  

Limit the time you spend for a celebration if time contributes to overwhelm.  

autism and holidays

Traditions

Consider a quiet tradition with your immediate family that your child will love. Start new traditions with your family.

Great ways to spend time together without a lot of sensory issues include:

Drive around and look at Christmas lights and holiday decorations.

Make holiday cookies and goodies.

Open gifts in a small, quiet celebration

Watch a holiday movie as a family.

Remember, some of the best traditions are the simple ones.

Make Small Changes

In other words, you might not want to go Clark Griswold with decorating, especially in one day.  Spread your decorating process out over time.

Mention you will be decorating for the holidays.  Give your child time to process the information.  Put your Christmas tree up one day and decorate your home on another.

Remember that slow, small change is better than a big surprise.

Perspective

I heard a college classmate say once, “The holidays are just 3 days we survive.”   

My hope is that you do more than survive.

Enjoy this time with traditions that work for you.  Remember, the end goal:  enjoying your family.  

A successful holiday is one where you loved on your family and made some happy memories.

Matching pj’s optional.

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