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The Holidays Don’t Have to be Hectic for Children with Autism

December 02, 2014

Holiday gatherings, decorating, shopping and baking can be hectic for parents, but for children with autism spectrum disorders the holidays can be just as stressful. It’s a season filled with unfamiliar people, unexpected situations and overpowering sights and sounds.

Below are some hints to help make the holidays enjoyable for children with autism:

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. Between holiday events and unexpected house guests, it can sometimes be difficult to get little ones to bed on time, but a consistent bedtime and adequate sleep can go a long way in keeping your little one calm, cool and collected. If it helps, set a reminder on your phone.
  • Continue to promote healthy eating patterns. Candy canes, chocolate kisses and hot cocoa are sure to make the holidays merry, but you will soon regret the sugar overload. Instead, ration tasty treats and encourage plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Make this fun by tracking candy and veggie intake on a sticker chart.
  • Keep a set schedule. It can be difficult to keep your daily routine when school and/or extracurricular activities are cancelled for the holidays. No school? Ask for extra homework or download lessons from the web. When dance class is cancelled, invite a friend or two to practice their pirouettes at your house.
  • Explain holiday plans and scheduled activities to help ease your child’s anxiety about unfamiliar people or places. Knowing who, what, when, where and how will help to increase his or her understanding and comfort level.
  • Model behaviors that you want your child to emulate, such as being calm, polite, patient and kind. Show him or her how to share.
  • Schedule down time. Everyone needs restful time amidst the chaos of the holiday season. Leave some blank space in the calendar or plan a favorite quiet activity, like snuggling under a blanket for a favorite holiday movie.
  • Don’t say “yes” to everything. Your child will be invited to holiday activities at his or her school, church, extracurricular activities, family and friends’ houses and more. Pick and choose the activities that your child will enjoy most and kindly decline the rest.
  • Create a calm environment. Turn off the dancing twinkle lights and the animatronic reindeer and enjoy a silent night.

However you decide to celebrate the holiday season, try to schedule and keep appointments with your child’s occupational, speech and/or physical therapists. It is important to keep his or her activities familiar, consistent and structured and to maintain progress.