December 21, 2018


Pro Tips

Pro Tips: Preparing for the Holidays

The holiday season can be overwhelming for most people, and even more so for a child with autism.  Children may become overwhelmed by 1. changes made to their environment when trees are set up and decorations are hung; 2.  traveling to unfamiliar settings when visiting relatives; 3. music, noises and commotion that often occur at holiday gatherings; 4. disruption in their schedules due to school breaks and resulting changes in sleep patterns; and 5. anticipation of the day that the Holiday season arrives.

  • One of the best things a parent can do to reduce their child’s stress is to manage their own stress.  First, recognize that the holiday season will never be perfect, and not having a perfect holiday does not mean you are a bad parent. Try to attend to your reactions when things do not go as planned, and model coping skills for your child.
  • The holidays provide a great opportunity for friends and relatives to practice social-communication skills with your child (i.e. greetings, saying thank you, waiting their turn.
  • If a difficult situation arises – and let’s face it, it will! – try to use the opportunity to familiarize family and friends about ways they can be supportive to you and your child by offering specific suggestions.  (i.e. “Joey is learning how to use a knife and fork. You can help by encouraging him. Please don’t cut his food for him.”)
  • Consider hosting a family holiday gathering at your home. Even though it may initially take more work to prepare for the gathering, children with autism are often the most comfortable in familiar surroundings.  And, being at home allows your child to take a brief retreat in their bedroom or other quiet area if they become overwhelmed by all of the commotion. This is also a great time to have your child help you prepare for the gathering by picking out decorations, helping clean the house or assisting in planning the menu.

With a little extra thought and preparation, the holiday season may not be perfect but it might be a little less stressful for you and your child.

Pro Tips provided by Amy Jablonski, Psy.D., BCBA-D, Vice President- Education and Behavioral Health and Dave Meichenbaum, Ph.D., Clinical Director-Behavioral Pediatrics Clinic.