holiday stress

Helpdesk Q&A: Holiday Help

Wondering how to get through the holidays? You’re not alone. Many families with a loved one on the spectrum feel overwhelmed this time of year and contact Milestones for some extra support. Below, Program Director Beth Thompson answers some of the most common questions we hear during the holiday season.

What can I do to make traveling easier for my loved one?
Milestones has compiled tips for you to ensure that your travel for a vacation or family gathering starts and ends on a positive note. Read the Milestones Travel Tips Toolkit for ways to make your flights successful! When possible, have your loved one visit the airport and go through a “mock run”. Also, check to see if there are school groups or organizations like Wings for Autism in your area who can help your family with this.

How do I make my home welcoming for loved ones with autism?
Reference our “How to Make a Place Welcoming” quick tips! Don’t be afraid to the teen or adult or their parent how to make gatherings better for them. They will be grateful you asked instead of assumed.

How do I encourage my child to come out of their room to spend time with family?
Make a contract with them and negotiate when and how long you would like them to participate with the family. Assure them you are not trying to take away all their downtime or screen time. The pleasantries and increased social expectations of the holidays may be lost to our loved one or may not matter to them at all. That’s okay – use what does matter to them (another ten minutes on their video game) to motivate them to join you at the dinner table.

There is so much to do this month – how will my family juggle it all?
Take time to prioritize what’s really important to you and your family during the holiday season. If getting a picture with Santa is important enough to struggle through a possible meltdown, make that the goal and support your child with visual supports, reinforcements, and social stories to help them reach that goal. If having your child sit down as part of the family meal or service is the top priority, make a plan to help your child understand the schedule and provide their favorite reinforcers through the activity.

How do I ensure my child’s caregiver enjoys their holiday season?
Make sure you are planning a break for everyone, including YOU! Your child’s teacher and therapist get a winter break – do you or your child’s other supports, like your partner or their siblings, get a break too? Even if it’s 20 minutes of secluded ice cream time after dinner, make sure you are taking breaks for yourself. If you need more in-home support to get your break, reach out to Milestones to get referrals for respite providers or aides. Remember, you do not have to go it alone.

I am worried my child will get restless during downtime. How do I help my child enjoy their winter break?
Make a plan to keep your loved one engaged while on break. Schedule a few specific activities that they will enjoy – a trip to see sensory-friendly Santa, a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley train, a trip to the zoo – these activities will help your child remain excited and motivated to work towards their desired activities (find autism friendly events here).

How should I deal with friends or relatives who don’t know my loved one is on the spectrum?
People may have questions about how to best interact with them. Relieve their concerns and give them this Milestones cheat-sheet on how to be a friend or relative to someone on the spectrum.

As always, you can email, message our team through Facebook, or call Milestones’ free Helpdesk at (216) 464-7600 if you need further guidance.

 

On the forefront of transition and adult services, Beth Thompson is Milestones’ Program Director. Beth has a Master’s degree coupled with extensive hands-on experience working with high school students with autism. Whether students are college or career bound, Beth is instrumental in helping teens successfully transition to adulthood.

bthompson@milestones.org
(216) 464-7600 x 108

 

Ask the Expert – Leisure Planning for Holiday Downtime

If your family is anything like ours, the holidays can be a stressful time of year.  After the novelty of winter break wears off, my boys quickly become bored and irritable. Unfortunately, this happy time of year can be stressful for many children and adults diagnosed with autism. Whether it is caused by a change in routine or deficits in leisure skills, extended breaks from school can be anything but joyful.

Last year, our family decided to break the cycle of the winter break blues. I had a simple plan in mind: we do just ONE family activity per day. I picked a variety of fun things to do and created a picture checklist to guide each activity. Using this method, our son participated in so many activities that he would have previously tried to escape. What really blew me away was after painting a picture (an activity that typically evoked his most cunning escape tactics), he smiled and said “painting.” Then an hour later, he looked at the picture and said, “paint a picture.” He was so proud of his work! I then realized that this was a strategy we needed to use as often as possible.

For other parents who are looking for new tools to assist them this holiday season, I highly recommend activity schedules. Activity schedules are sets of pictures that show each of the steps needed to complete a task. They help ease the stress that novel activities sometime bring by showing a concrete beginning and end for each task. They are a great way to promote independence while also decreasing the stress parents can feel during family activities. Click here to see an example of a simple activity schedule for a fun, snowman craft.

While there is a plethora of pre-made activity schedules online, I found that looking for what I needed simply took too much time. If there is one thing that most parents of children with autism share, it is limited free time. Since there are many low-cost apps available in the iTunes store, I found that the cost was well worth the time saved. Some activity schedule applications even include daily, weekly, or monthly
visual schedule options.

My favorite apps for making activity schedules include: First Then Visual Schedule HD, Choiceworks, and iPrompts. Visual Schedule is another app that I cannot live without. It allows the user to place either pictures or short video clips right in the activity schedule, which makes it a fantastic option for visual learners. For non-tablet users, Boardmaker Online is a fantastic option. Users can use picture symbols or online photos to create schedules. Users may also obtain a free trial for 30 days without any strings attached, great for a family trying to navigate the holidays on a budget.

Using simple tools and a little prep work can help you navigate the holiday season with a little less stress.  The time spent planning upfront will allow you and your loved one with autism to experience the joy and love that truly represents the holiday season.  You may just have a little fun along the way too!

 

Sarah Glass, BA, BCaBA, is the owner and operator of Oh, Hi Social Skills and Innovative Behavioral Consulting.  She returned to college and became a behavior analyst after her oldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and a half. She is a mentor and Skill Corps Leader for the Global Autism Project.