Navigating the Holidays with Autism

child-gift-holidays-christmas.jpgFor most people, the holiday season is a time for festive lights, family gatherings, gift-giving and good cheer. However for parents of children with autism, it can be a particularly stressful time of year.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of conditions categorized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Large crowds, change in routine and new experiences happening throughout the holiday season can sometimes be difficult for children with autism to adjust to.

Here are some simple ways parents can help children with autism move smoothly through the holiday season:

Stick to a routine: As much as possible, incorporate aspects into your day similar to your child’s usual routine. Children tend to have an easier time adjusting if activities remain consistent. When changes to your schedule arise, be sure to review them with your child.

Familiarize your child with friends and family: Meeting so many new faces during holiday gatherings can be especially challenging for a child with autism. A great way to help ease the stress is to familiarize your child ahead of time with the people  they will meet. Additionally, help relatives and friends understand your child’s preferences or triggers (i.e.: he or she may not like to be hugged).

Prepare your child for a new environment: If you plan to travel during the holidays, help familiarize your child with the places you’re going – including new cities, hotels or even a relative’s house. It’s also important to pack familiar, comforting items to help your child to feel more at home in their unfamiliar environment.

Avoid large crowds: The holiday shopping rush means long lines at the mall and packed parking lots. Take precaution and be aware of the large crowds. For smaller children, some malls and businesses also provide a sensory-friendly Santa to help ease your child’s fear.

Know your child: Autism spectrum disorder covers a wide range and each child has different responses and reactions. It’s important for parents to know their child and to know what situations they can and cannot tolerate. If you detect a situation may become overwhelming, help your child find a quiet area in which to regroup.

​With a little planning and maybe some rehearsal or role-playing with your speech-language pathologist, families can still experience the extras associated with the season.

The Speech-Language Institute (SLI) of Salus University offers a variety of services and resources for adults and children with autism and their families. For more information on SLI’s services or to schedule an appointment, call 215.780.3150.