Holidays can be an especially stressful time for adults and children. The holidays can mean traveling, new places, new people, new challenges, and new adventures. Dr. Solandy Forte and the Solstice Behavioral Health & Consulting team have provided ABA Therapy for autism to Fairfield County and surrounding communities for over 20 years. Every holiday season, we take the opportunity to share a few tips on how to make the holiday break a fun time to enjoy family, friends, and celebrations.
5 Happy Holiday Tips for Children with Autism
1. Charge Your Electronics
Technology has become a pivotal tool for teaching and engaging children with autism. Whether it is being used to practice communication skills or your child just needs a few minutes of their favorite comforting show, tablets, phones, and other electronic devices give your child a self-regulation method on the go. For children who communicate best through typing or sharing pictures on a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), the device is a necessity.
You want to give your child all the resources they need to feel comfortable and communicate with you. Always make sure all your electronics are fully charged and don’t forget the chargers. It may also be a good idea to carry a battery bank to charge devices on the go.
2. Establish ‘Help’ Signals
Problems communicating are often a primary indicator of autism. Although one of the primary goals of all of our efforts is to improve your child’s communication, the holiday hustle and bustle may not be the best place to enforce strict communication rules. Instead, practice signals that your child can use to communicate their need for comfort, quiet, or anything else. Your child may be entering places with loud sounds, new people, and cramped spaces.
We believe that your child can safely be a part of all the holiday celebrations, but giving them a direct method of communicating their need for assistance can help create a feeling of independence and support. The signal can be different for each child depending on their best communication method. For example, a sign language movement, holding your hand, raising their hand, or even a verbal “help please” can go a long way to a safe and comfortable holiday for you and your child.
3. Practice Greetings & Simple Interactions
Children of all ages and abilities can have difficulty entering a new home or environment while keeping the traditional polite greetings or polite “please” and “thank you”. If you don’t see family regularly, it can feel like a first introduction all over again. Knowing this, it can help to practice meeting someone by shaking hands or even a fist bump.
Equally important is the ability of your child to communicate requests and rejections. While all the parents and children are moving about the house, there will be instances where others may offer food, sweets, activities, or other things and may not understand the queues and communication methods that you and your child have built together. So, it is important to
4. Bring Your Routine With You.
Many of the struggles for children with ASD during the holidays revolve around a change to their routine. Schedules have to change, food will be different, and interactions with unfamiliar faces will increase. If possible, try sticking to the same morning and bedtime routines to give your child a sense of familiarity and normalcy. It is common for a struggling child to noticeably become more cooperative and excited when completing a task they have already habituated.
The routines can include brushing teeth, combing hair, singing a good morning song, visiting the calendar and reviewing the agenda for the day, and later having cool-down time with their favorite show or book, a shower, and any other bedtime readiness activities. Sticking to routines can be an amazing way to practice some independence while in a new environment, so make sure to bring the tools & resources you need to support those routines. If staying with family, you may even try inviting them to join the morning and/or bedtime routine to support your efforts.
5. Keep traditions.
Annual traditions are another great way to get your child excited and comfortable with celebrating. Thanksgiving turkey drawings and placing the star on top of the Christmas tree can be the highlight of their holiday season. In the days before the trip, talk about the activities and shop together or make crafts that will lead to the big traditional event. If it’s the first time, take photos so that next year you can reference the activity and the people that will be there. Practicing names and reliving that memory can help dissolve some of the anticipatory stress your child may feel.
We know from experience that children with autism can have a difficult time during the holiday rush, so we hope these tips help create a smooth transition. Everyone deserves a comfortable and happy holiday and with a little preparation, it is possible. For more information about ABA Therapy and other autism services for children, call (203) 900-4720 or contact us online.