For many, the holiday season is a time of joy, but for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it may also present distressing disruptions to their routines.

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

SantaStick 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. Do your best to keep mealtimes and bedtimes consistent.

Be mindful about decorations: Let your child know in advance how and when you plan to decorate and invite your child to participate in the decorating process as much as possible. Limit the amount of decorations that have flashing lights and sounds to prevent overstimulation.

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 - for example, if they may not like to be hugged.

Holiday dinerPrepare 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: Crowds are tough for many people, and for kids with sensory sensitivities, they can be overwhelming. Children who are overwhelmed are much more likely to melt down, misbehave, or simply freeze up. Instead of parades and big Christmas light events, consider taking a car drive to see some of the best local light displays.

Prepare ahead for mealtimes: Mealtimes often present challenges for many families, particularly if your child is unfamiliar with the food options that will be available. If others are contributing various dishes for the holiday, consider bringing a dish that you are certain your child enjoys.

Child with Christmas presentKnow your child: Autism spectrum disorder covers a wide range and each child has different responses and reactions. Know how much noise and other sensory input they can tolerate. Know their level of anxiety and the amount of preparation it may take. If you detect a situation may become overwhelming, help your child find a quiet area in which to regroup. Know their fears and those things that will make the season more enjoyable for them.

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.