This time of the year can be overwhelming for parents as well as children living with autism. Children with autism survive by day-to-day predictability and consistency. When the holidays are near, many schedule changes at school and home begin, and this can cause distress for our kids.
Now is the time to break out your autism parenting toolbox.
- Tip 1- Prepare your child for upcoming events with a visual calendar. This can be posted on the refrigerator door or even on a tablet or iPad. If your child also needs to have a daily calendar it is important to post this as well. Simple pictures or symbols can be used. If your child likes to read, use simple two-word phrases such as, “No school,” “Christmas break.”
It is important for your child to know who may be with them on their days without school. Will it be day care providers, family members or both? Put that on the visual calendar as well. As I mentioned earlier, predicability is the key.
- Tip 2- Children will want to be busy and have a routine on their days off from school. Providing a routine for the child is extremely important to help with anxiety and boredom. It can be useful to offer a variety of sensory activities your child will enjoy. This will help keep a positive flow throughout the break. For example, if your child seeks out tactile sensory feedback you can offer finger painting, shaving cream play, or making a gingerbread house. Going for walks, playing in the snow, swimming at the gym are also possibilities to keep the child active and provide routine activities over break.
When children with autism have too much down time it can end up in meltdowns. Brainstorm about your child’s interests, and you will find ways to keep them active, busy, and feeding their sensory needs at the same time. If someone is caring for them during the break be sure to communicate some ideas to try and do during this downtime.
- Tip 3 – There are many activities happening during the holidays. For those non routine activities, it is crucial to provide a simple social story for these events. Prepare your child and be realistic about what they can and can’t tolerate. For example, look at holiday lights driving in a car versus going inside a busy place. If you are going to a family member’s home, rehearse expected behavior and provide a “safe place” for the child to go when he or she needs a break from the noise and over stimulation. Bring familiar toys and comfort items for the child to have during these unfamiliar times. This will provide security and predictability for your child. Be patient and understanding when your child may need more breaks and may not participate like others. Our children see the world and understand it much differently than we do.
As these holiday routines become more consistent and predictable, your child will amaze you. And after all the holiday madness has settled, it will feel like you had a break too.