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    Autism Society of Minnesota
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  • Tips to make your holidays happy days
Dec
17

Tips to make your holidays happy days

holidaysnowmanFor many of us, the holidays are a time to focus on fun, friends and family, while flipping our schedules upside-down for the hustle and bustle. For those who depend upon daily routines and careful planning of activities, times of fun and excitement can dissolve into moments of anxiety and stress.

We've put together a list to help guide families with a loved one with autism and/or special sensory needs through the holiday haze.

holidaysnowmanFor many of us, the holidays are a time to focus on fun, friends and family, while flipping our schedules upside-down for the hustle and bustle. For those who depend upon daily routines and careful planning of activities, times of fun and excitement can dissolve into moments of anxiety and stress.

We've put together a list to help guide families with a loved one with autism and/or special sensory needs through the holiday haze.

Prep the individual for what to expect. Familiarize him or her with whom he or she will see by looking at photo albums, online (Facebook) or otherwise. Create a social story with descriptions of what will or may happen at upcoming festivities including expected appropriate behaviors.

 

Prep your family. If you'll be spending time with family and others who may not be familiar with the individual's needs, provide them information so they know what to expect and won't be offended if he or she says what is on his or her mind in the moment. Share what you are comfortable sharing. For example: "Sam is more comfortable with high fives than hugs and kisses, or: "Allie is learning how to try new foods".

 

Maintain diet. Some bodies and brains can continue to function at an optimal (if not slightly hyper or lethargic) level with changes in diet such as increased sugar, fat, red food dyes, wheat, or carbonation. Other bodies, however, get thrown off kilter when holiday foods are introduced, causing potential challenges. It is up to you on how to navigate the rich holiday food offerings. Consider bringing along your own food. Family gatherings may NOT be the time to try and introduce new foods to a selective eater. If he or she is eating chicken nuggets while everyone else is enjoying turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, that's OK! Don't stress about how he or she will respond to new foods. He or she doesn't have to eat them.

Make an escape plan. Create a safe space where the individual (or you) can retreat before he or she is "maxed out". It could be a spare bedroom with video games and movies; a small tent or fort with pillows, blankets, preferred toys; or even the car or garage. Also consider having a plan for what to do if your sensory-seeker has been cooped up in a car or airplane and is now expected to sit still as a guest in someone's house all day. Find ways to give him or her opportunities for vestibular input (spinning, swinging), heavy work (running, crashing, carrying heavy things), and/or tactile experiences (play dough, fidget toys) before there are problems. Don't be afraid to say your good-byes earlier than others or to drive separate cars so some family members can stay while others head home or back to the hotel for less commotion. The more communication you have with family in advance, the better chance you have to successfully manage your time together.

Prearrange a check-in signal. When grandma is coming in for yet another kiss-attack and the individual is stuck with no way out, how do you know when he or she has had enough and becoming stressed? Create a means of checking in with each other and prearrange a special signal or word that will help you get each other's attention and move to a different location, maybe taking a break from the noise.

Have a support team. Enlist at least one other person or family to be on your "team" during your gathering, someone who is sensitive to your needs and makes sure the "safe space" is arranged. It could be an adult or older kid your child trusts and is able to hang out with while you eat and socialize.

Whatever you do, don't do it alone. Don't downplay your own needs as you care for others during the holiday season.

Sources:

  • 15 Holiday Survival Tips from National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • Holiday Survival Tips for Families of Children with Special Needs, Posted on Dec. 9, 2012