While the holidays can be a very fun and exciting time, they often tend to disrupt regular routines. A disruption in routines can frequently lead to added stress, anxiety, and behavioral difficulties for individuals with autism and their families. So how can you maintain the fun in holidays but also manage the major changes in routine? Here are a few ideas that may be helpful:
• Use and/or modify tools your child already utilizes well. If your child uses an activity schedule, calendar, or some kind of app to prepare for transitions and upcoming events; be sure to include new icons, symbols, or preparation for the events related to holidays.
• Practice the event. It may be possible for you to role play an event such as a larger family dinner, loud music, or the arrival of a someone dressed up as a character (such as Santa Claus.)
• Take the time to list out what may be unique or new. While you cannot prepare for everything, it’s valuable to consider what your child may not have encountered in the past. For example, will there be lit candles within reach? Will there be appealing items your child is required to leave alone? Once you’ve brainstormed a bit, you’ll be better able to respond appropriately.
• Enlist some help. If there is a family member or friend who will be present and can help if you need it, ask for their help beforehand and be specific. This might be asking them to engage your child in an activity for a short period of time, or running interference for you when your distant aunt approaches with a litany of rude questions about autism.
• Make sure your child has an appropriate way to request a break. Whether your child is verbal or nonverbal, it’s helpful to teach them an appropriate way to exit a situation that is uncomfortable. This is a skill you can practice at home and use in other environments as well.
• Recognize your successes. The holidays can be a stressful time, but they can also be a great indicator of just how far your child has come. Relatives you haven’t seen in a year are far more likely to see the difference in your child’s growth than you are, since you’ve seen that steady growth from day to day. It can be a wonderful time to step back and acknowledge just how hard you have all worked in previous months.
These are simple steps that may be helpful in reducing stress during the holidays. Do you have special tips for how you prepare?
WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA
Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.