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Tips for the Holidays

Holidays can be challenging for children with autism, as they often involve departures from the comfort of everyday routines and familiar settings, as well as increased social demands.  Below are some tips for making the holidays fun and enjoyable for the whole family. The links will take you to examples of the recommended strategies:

  • Try to maintain your child’s regular schedule. Keep his or her meals and naps as close to their usual times as possible, even if you are at someone else’s home.

  • Prepare your child for the holiday events in advance. Picture schedules can help make events predictable. Showing your child current photos of family members and the location of the gathering can help ease the transition.

  • If you are spending time with others during the holidays, provide them with information your child's needs, preferences, and triggers in advance.  Give them a list of "to do's and not to do's", identify and explain what might cause anxiety for your child, explain what they can do to help reduce anxiety and reinforce good behavior.  Communicate to family members what they can expect to see and experience with your child and what may be asking too much of him or her.  Prepare family members for any challenging behaviors that may occur and how to react to those challenging behaviors.  Read or send via email the "Welcome to Holland" story by Emily Perl Kingsley if you think that would be helpful.

  • If you are visiting others, bring along some of your child’s favorite toys and comfort objects. Make sure these objects are available to your child throughout the day.

  • Identify an area of the house where your child can go if the holiday activities become overwhelming. Make sure other guests know the purpose of this area.  Other “break” activities might include taking a walk with you or being pushed on a swing.

  • Practice coping skills with your child. Create a choice board for what they could do if/when they feel overwhelmed. 

  • Practice specific games or activities before the family gathering to increase your child's ability to participate with friends or family.  Bring the games with you and try to work the game into the holiday schedule.

  • Try to arrange the schedule so that activities that are challenging for your child are interspersed with activities that they prefer.  A visual schedule can be used to remind the child that fun activities are on the horizon. A “first/then” board can be helpful in communicating which preferred activity will come after the challenging one. 

Best wishes for the holidays from everyone at the UWAC!