As the holiday season inches nearer and nearer, so do the various gatherings, shopping trips, and traditions that accompany the season. Although each of these can be sources of great joy and connection, chances are they also bring a little stress along with them. For families with children on the autism spectrum, the holidays likely even present a range of new challenges and experiences. In order to create the most stress-free, enjoyable holiday season, families can take several steps to benefit their child’s individual needs.
A great place to start is to set expectations reasonably and communicate with family and guests. As a parent, this might mean carefully considering what traditions to keep, and accepting that some things will have to be done differently. Not all previous family traditions may work with a child’s needs, but there are likely some special ones that can remain, or even be altered in new and creative ways. The best thing to do is keep an open mind and set expectations reasonably.
Once the parents set expectations, they can reach out to family and guests to inform them of any adjustments. This might take the form of a well-thought-out email or text to party-goers, explaining what to expect and how to best support the child’s needs.
Planning for your Child
As the party approaches, families can make the experience easier for their children by planning for their preferences ahead of time. Having a designated “settle-down spot,” for example, can be a great resource for children on the spectrum to help calm themselves if things get too overwhelming. Keeping tangible toys around, being mindful of volume levels, and providing headphones can all be critical tools for keeping your child calm and content as well. Even planning alternative food options can be a great idea, as holiday foods can be foreign and stressful in comparison to your child’s normal dietary preferences.
Enjoy the Party
The last and most important things families with children on the autism spectrum can do is remember the main purpose of the holidays: to spend joyful time with family. Practicing gratitude this season might mean giving your child breaks and focusing on what they love about the season. After all is said and done, enjoy the party, and know that you have cultivated the best holiday experience for your child.