Almost everyone happily anticipates celebrating the holiday season. For families who have loved ones with autism, the experience might be less festive, because of all the challenges they face with routine and schedule disruptions.
Holidays for special needs families need extra planning and preparation to ensure that autism and Christmas blend well together. Here are some tips that can be very helpful for everybody involved.
1. Know Your Loved Ones with Autism
Determine how much sensory input like light, sound, temperature, and crowding they can tolerate. Identify which situations can appear overwhelming for your autistic loved one and make a plan for shutdowns and stress. Make sure you know the level of their anxiety, what they are afraid of, and things that could aid in making them feel happy during the holiday season.
2. Plan and Prepare to Harmonize Autism and Christmas
Because holidays for special needs families will have special challenges, planning and preparing in advance is the best way to minimize situations of discomfort. Tell your loved one who has autism months before the event about what will take place during the holiday season.
You can also show your loved ones with autism photos of the relatives, friends, and other guests who will attend the holiday season gathering. Ensure that they can look at the photos any time they want to.
3. Minimize Autism Anxiety with Relatives and Friends
Tell them if your loved one with autism likes being hugged or not. Include your suggestions on how things can carry on smoothly this coming holiday season. Coach them about staying calm when your loved one becomes upset or anxious. It’s best that they know what to expect and how to make things as comfortable as possible.
4. Include Your Loved Ones Food Favorites
Make sure that your loved one’s food is accessible without having to ask for your help. If they don’t have a special diet, keep track of the sweets that they eat. You know what too much sugar can do. Ensure that their sleep and meal routines are maintained even if it’s the holiday season.
5. Prepare for Autistic Gift Giving Frenzy
Simulate activities of unwrapping gifts, taking turns and waiting, and the gift giving itself. You can try to role play with your loved ones and prepare for a gift that they don’t like. Tell them about the process in order to prevent embarrassing situations from happening. You can also practice religious rituals during the holiday season instead of gift giving.
If your loved ones with autism are obsessing about a specific gift that they want, try to give directions as to how many times they can discuss it with you. You can give them five things they can use as tokens to bring up and talk about their desired gift for five minutes per token. If you don’t intend to purchase a special gift they want, be direct and vocal about your intentions.
6. Teach Your Loved Ones with Autism How to Leave an Overwhelming Situation
This is essential for when things become overwhelming for them this holiday season. Set aside a special place for your loved one with autism. This can be used as their stress free safe place. Tell them to go to their safe place when your autistic loved one feels overwhelmed.
If that’s not ideal, create signals that they can use as signs of being anxious. Then you can signal them to go to their safe place. For those who have more challenges, practice the process of going to the safe place before the guests arrive. Add soft music and dim lights in the safe place.
Autism and the holiday season can be festive, exciting, safe, and fun for everyone. If you are planning to go to a relative’s home or on vacation for the holidays, it is essential to stay together. Wearables like GPS tracking watches and apps for autism, Alzheimer’s and dementia are great for this. Make this season one of safety and joy, creating memories that last a lifetime.