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Getting Ready for the Holidays

Holidays are exciting times in the year that can sometimes become overwhelming for some children. Strategies for preparing children can help make transitions from daily routines to holiday breaks easier for the child. Some strategies/tools may include: visual schedules, role-playing, practicing, social stories, dietary plans and picture cards for family members. This blog will provide you with some easy tips to make the holidays a little easier for you and your child with autism.

Some children with autism may have difficulty remembering family members not seen regularly. A photo album or book of family and friends can be really helpful to prepare the child with the information needed to identify family members and may reduce any feelings of anxiety related to interacting with unfamiliar people. Contacting family members prior to the holidays can help to ease children into communicating with relatives. Have your child send letters or emails, write holiday cards, or video chat with expected guests. Practice common holiday greetings to prepare for greeting friends and family during the holiday season.

Practice dinner etiquette and expectations for behaving during the holiday meal. You might have your child help prepare for meals, practice sitting at the dinner table, engage in family table customs, or practice with a novel meal routine such as taking food from buffet style layout (large platters and bowls). If your child is a picky eater you may prepare a separate meal for them just in case, though holiday meals may also be a good time for children to try new foods.

Practice manners and rules for giving gifts and receiving gifts (i.e. taking turns, saying please and thank you, waiting, allowing others to open first). Practicing these expectations will make these situations more familiar and will teach the child what is expected of them. The excitement of meeting new people, eating holiday foods and receiving gifts may be very stimulating and overwhelming. Take the time to praise appropriate behaviors and deliver familiar items as reinforcers for positive behaviors that occur both during practice and throughout the holiday events.

If the child is expected to interact with other children, help initiate interactions with familiar toys and reinforcers. Bring along items that can be shared with others and that the child is more likely to engage in and share.

Finally, let family members and hosts know about your child’s special diets or needs ahead of time. This will allow time for them to make the appropriate accommodations to minimize any anxiety or behaviors that may arise.