Ask the Expert – Practical Strategies to Maintain Your Child’s Physical and Mental Health During the Holidays
The holiday season is just around the corner, and you can feel the excitement in the air! For most of us, the lights, glitter, family gatherings, shopping, and travel are all thrilling this time of year. When you are a parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, all of these thrilling experiences can also be a major cause of stress. All of the extra sensory stimulation, as well as the changes in schedule and routine, might become a significant source of anxiety for your child, causing him or her to become overwhelmed. So, in an effort to lower the stress level for you, your child, and the rest of your family, we decided to put together some proactive suggestions that will hopefully help all of you to enjoy this magical time of year.
Keep a routine. Since change is difficult for many children with ASD, try to maintain routines and stick to schedules (as much as possible). Use a visual timer (we are fans of the Time-Timer, as children can actually “see” the time passing without any anxiety-causing sound) and give a “First…Then” chart a try!
Prepare, prepare, prepare! Help your child understand what will occur BEFORE it happens with a social story (write your own or choose from those readily available online). Construct a calendar that visually represents when events will occur and refer to it often. If you are hosting (or planning on attending) a large family gathering to celebrate the holiday season, prepare a mini photo album that includes pictures of all those who will be in attendance and their names (review it with your child prior to the event). If you are celebrating locally, it might be helpful to plan a brief visit ahead of time, or plan to arrive before the other guests, to allow your child to become familiar with and comfortable in the environment.