Supporting Families through the Holidays

The holidays are a time for families to create memories and enjoy time with one another. However, for some families, the holidays are stressful and overwhelming. The holidays can become overwhelming for children with autism if they are in large crowds, see/smell unfamiliar foods, or have an increase of social interactions, changes in routine, and environmental changes (like bright lights and other decorations). Here are some ways to reduce stress and support children and their families during the holidays.

  1. Communication: It’s okay to tell extended families and friends no. It is also okay to have boundaries. Be clear about your child’s needs and limits. For example, if you are invited to open gifts with the family, you can tell them she will need a break before dinner. You can also communicate the different ways your child likes to play and how your family can play with her.
  2. Create a plan to take a break: If you are attending a family member’s home you can ask them to use a room or quiet area so that your child can decompress. If you are in your own home, provide your child with that time to slow down and create balance for themselves. During this time, you can take deep breaths with your child. You can also provide a sensory fidget or favorite toy to your child.
  3. Prepare before the events: You can prepare your child for upcoming family events by using social stories, creating a photo album of family members who will be present, or practice opening gifts. You can bring them their favorite foods if your child has a specific diet. If your family members are hosting, you can ask them what foods will be on the menu. Prior to the event you can make a mock menu at home to try.
  4. Lower your expectations: You can always make things simple. Stay at home or leave earlier than planned. That’s okay! Create new family traditions at home. Try using video calls to be present at events.

Happy Holidays!