It’s holiday season, a time of thanks, joy, and quality time spent with loved ones. Whether you’re hosting a holiday gathering or attending one as a guest, there is a lot of preparation involved, from picking out which outfit to wear to deciding what dish to make. For your loved one with autism, there are greater anxieties associated with overstimulation of sights (e.g. bright lights), sounds (e.g. caroling), and smells (“Why did Aunt Kathy bring that burnt casserole?”). Children who get overwhelmed may throw tantrums, melt down, or simply retire to a quiet space to get away from it all. Others may be more adaptive and join the festivities but fail to comprehend the true meaning of the holidays. This list of tips and resources can help you and your family focus on the joy rather than stress of holidays.
Ease Travel Plans
Whether traveling by plane or car, the act of sitting still for hours in a confined space with other people easily induces stress. That effect is magnified in loved ones with autism who resist unexpected changes and depend heavily on routine. A good way to ease travels is by preparing your child mentally and physically with tools, toys, and equipment.
- OAR provides tips for plane and car travel:
- Kidmunicate.com provides a social story that parents can use to help their child anticipate things that will happen at the airport and on flights.
Anticipate the Holidays
Minimize the effect of holiday stressors by communicating what your child can expect and what you expect from them. An effective, evidence-based strategy is to use visual supports (e.g. calendars) and social stories.
- The Indiana Resource Center for Autism provides ready-made visual supports and social narratives for celebrations and holidays.
- The Gateways website provides social stories for those celebrating Hanukkah. These social stories demonstrate the social expectations and fire safety behaviors related to lighting the menorah.
Address Sensory Overstimulation
- Give your child noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to dull the effect of loud noises. Providing a hat to wear can block hanging lights. As an alternative, offer novelty Christmas glasses as party favors, making sure to give your child a shaded pair to reduce the glare of bright lights. Use the glasses as party favors to encourage your child to celebrate with everyone while normalizing their use among all the party guests.
- Ask the people around you to use their “indoor” voices.
- Coordinate with the event host to see if there can be a designated quiet space where people can naturally circulate through and interact with your child. There should be a sensory-free space where your child can go if needed.
Enjoy the holidays with those you cherish. Happy holidays from your friends at OAR!