Strategies and Tips for a Happy Holiday Season
The holidays can be difficult and overwhelming for many children and youth with Autism. Here are some strategies to help enjoy a happy and successful holiday season.
Prepare with Family and Friends
Let family members and friends know ahead of time what to expect from the child or youth with Autism during difficult times/transitions. Also, mention what might be helpful to do or not to do during this time. Ask family or friends if there is a quiet space the individual could use, if the event becomes too overwhelming or loud. Show the person where this space is or how to ask for it.
Create a Schedule of Holiday Events
Ask for a schedule of events from family/friends in advance to create a visual order of events. This could include a simple schedule of pictures, for example:
Or your family member may benefit from a more detailed schedule with words and/or pictures:
Create a Visual Calendar to Plan your Holidays
Use a visual calendar to show all your family’s events this holiday season and use a visual countdown for Christmas Day. Creating a calendar to show what will be happening, can help a child or youth with autism understand how many days until an event and which days will be spent at home, school or other locations. Having a countdown calendar will help keep them involved as they check off the days until Christmas or other holiday events.
Use the following calendar or create your own visual calendar using the blank template and pictures provided:
Use Social Stories to Help Prepare
Preparation is key to helping a child or youth with autism understand new events. Social stories are a great way to teach the expectations of social situations. These stories could be used for: travelling to new places, meeting new people, attending school functions, decorating the house or going to the mall to see Santa. Create a short story that explains the social do’s, don’ts and expectations; it may be helpful to include pictures.
Here is a social story example of going to the mall to see Santa:
- I will go to the mall to see Santa.
- There will be other boys and girls there to see Santa.
- I will stand in line and wait my turn. When I am standing I will keep my hands and feet to myself.
- When it is my turn to see Santa, I will either sit on his lap or stand close to him and have my picture taken.
- We do not kiss Santa and I will keep my hands to myself when sitting or standing with Santa.
- After I have seen Santa I will leave the mall. My family will be there to help me.
Tips for Holiday Travel
When travelling, help prepare your child or youth by providing details in advance, such as how long it will take and what items they can bring along (e.g., download favourite shows on iPad, colouring books, headphones and snacks). It may be helpful to use a visual timer on a clock, phone or iPad to show exactly how long until arrival.
Deck the Halls – Decorating Tips
Before decorating for the holidays, explain to your child or youth what changes will be occurring in the home. While decorating for the holidays, start adding decorations slowly so changes are not occurring all at once, and where possible, involve your family in the decorating. If using scents or musical items, try testing them first to see if your child or youth finds them tolerable before including them in your home.