Holidays can bring stress for both individuals with autism and their families

The holidays are here and they can be a time of stress, anxiety, and overload for League School students and their families. Throughout November and December, routines are disrupted, which is difficult for people on the autism spectrum. “Our goal is for all family members to enjoy family festivities by helping families support their children with autism to participate in new, and potentially challenging activities,” said Speech-Language Pathologist and Department Head, Chrissy Bunnell. She provides the following five tips to help students and their families enjoy the holiday season.

Check out these 5 Tips for Enjoying the Holidays

  1. Preview What to Expect: Put together a calendar of events and review these frequently with your child so they know what to expect. Chrissy suggests a three-step calendar approach: Month-at-a-glance listing the days of special events. A “day-of” schedule outlining what time the event will happen. Share a story about the event including where the event is, who will be there, what you’ll do for activities, and how long it will last.
  2. Advocate for Your Child: Reach out to family members and friends who will attend ahead of time to help your child enjoy the event. Chrissy suggests providing the following information: What triggers your child. For example, people who are too close or certain sounds. How your child communicates. For example, an AAC device, gestures, or facial expressions. Signs that your child is feeling overwhelmed, such as repeating certain phrases.
  3. Maintain Routines When Possible and Limit Overload: Even when traveling, it’s important to maintain routines, such as mealtime, bedtime, and hygiene practices. Limit the number of holiday events that your child attends. Reconsider attending a particular event if it will be crowded, loud, or visually overstimulating.  
  4. Consider Your Student’s Interests: Consider which activities are motivating and meaningful for the individual with autism before committing to attending an event. “If your child enjoys cooking, engage them in preparing the meal,” said Chrissy. “If your child likes bright lights, go to a holiday light show instead of an auditory event like caroling.”
  5. Support Your Child’s Sensory Needs: Bring a sensory toolbox to holiday events and teach your child where there’s a safe place when needed. Pack favorite regulating strategies in the toolbox: snacks, water, fidgets, noise-reducing headphones, and a small, weighted bean bag or blanket. Establish a quiet space in advance — the car or room in the house away from others — that your child can go to if they become overstimulated.
Chrissy is the Head of the Speech and Language Department at League School

“Changes in routine can be difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum, and anticipating potential challenges can help make the holiday season fun for every family member,” said Chrissy. “Try to pick the most important traditions and events to avoid overscheduling the family. And, take time to enjoy season-themed activities at home, such as holiday Bingo, thematic jokes, and holiday treats.”

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