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Autism and the Holidays: Advice from the Front Lines

Catlaina Vrana By Catlaina Vrana | 11/29/16 8:53 AM | First Person Autism | 1 Comments

Navigating the holidays with autism

The time has come for families and friends to get together and celebrate. This particular time of the year means many things: inviting extended family over, wrapping presents, pie, singing, joy, worshipping, and making cookies! However, holidays also mean a messed up routine, sensory chaos, and unwritten social rules.

Sensory stuff is tricky. It is very different for everyone on the spectrum. Even people that do not have sensory issues or autism can admit that the holiday season is very overwhelming. Flashing Christmas lights, new food smells (and tastes!), and loud uncles are all a part of the package. Having a place where your child can take a break from it all is a really good thing to consider.

twinkle-lights-sensory-sensitive.jpgIf your kid is under-sensitive to sensory input as opposed to being over-sensitive, it can be good to give them a place where they can let off some energy! Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I loved the bright fireworks, the rumbling trucks, and the parades. During most of that day my family was outside. If I was overwhelmed I could just run it off- I was allowed to sing and jump and run around. That definitely made a big difference in how much I was able to participate and celebrate that day.

Family can be a big part of the upcoming holidays. Some relatives who are not a part of the daily life of a special needs family are not always clued in to certain challenges your family faces. It can be hard when someone mistakes your child repeating words as disrespectful, or thinks your child is ‘cold’ when they don't want a hug. One idea to help this would be giving out a card that has some basic information and tips on how to interact with your child. Please remember that even if you think your child can’t hear or understand others, it’s important to presume competence. Respect is important for everyone in the family!

During the holidays, routine gets messed up. Obviously, you can’t have the same routine on regular days as during the holidays.  Here’s a few tips on providing structure during special days:

  • loud-busy-family.jpgTalk about the day before it happens. Let them know what kind of activities they will do. The day might be uncertain and that’s okay. Prepare for uncertainty! For example, there might be an Easter egg hunt in the morning, or church service. It all depends on if it rains. While this schedule is not strict, it still gives some ‘rules’ to how the day is going to go.
  • Give transitional warnings. Transitioning from one activity to the next can be hard, especially when you’re already having fun. Giving verbal or visual warnings can help with transitioning. For example saying “ 10 minutes left until it’s time to unwrap presents” or “2 minutes until we go back inside.”

The last thing I want to talk about is meltdowns and family. Meltdowns are not fun; not for the parent, not for the family, and not for the autistic person. That is why it is so important to de-escalate factors that could cause a meltdown before you reach the point of no return. With a plan, everyone can work together to make the day fun for everyone!

In conclusion, I hope that some of my experiences and tips are helpful. Have a good holiday season! 

Catlaina Vrana Catlaina Vrana is a writer and illustrator. She enjoys cartoons, swinging, and church.

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