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Autism and the Holidays: Tips for the Holidays from Hands

The holiday season has arrived, and Hands theFamilyHelpNetwork wants to help families celebrate and enjoy the holidays.  For families with children and youth on the Autism spectrum, the holiday season can be a wonderful time and one which can present some specific challenges.  With the COVID-19 pandemic potentially altering many family traditions this year, it could prove more challenging for an individual with Autism.

To assist, Hands theFamilyHelpNetwork is providing some holiday-based tips focussed on children with Autism for any families who might benefit.  They are also asking families to share their own traditions and tips for a happy holiday season on the Hands Autism Services Facebook page.

“This time of year, with all the lights and decorations, and schedule changes can be very difficult for a person with Autism,” said Karen Grattan-Miscio, Interim Director of Autism and Behavioural Services, at Hands. “One tip we recommend for families is that before decorating for the holidays, explain what will be happening and the changes that will be occurring in their home. It’s helpful to start adding decorations slowly so that changes are not occurring all at once.  Involve the person with Autism as much as possible. If using scents or musical items when decorating, try testing them first to see if they are tolerable to the person with Autism before including them in the home.”

Other Autism-related holiday tips for families include:

  • Create a visual calendar to show all the events happening during the holiday season and use a visual countdown for Christmas Day. This shows the individual with Autism what will be happening and when.
  • Family members and friends can be told ahead of time what to expect from the person with Autism during difficult times or transitions and 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 gets too overwhelming or loud and show the person where this space is or how to ask to use it.
  • It would be helpful to get a schedule of events from family/friends ahead of time to be able to create a visual schedule of events. This could include a simple schedule of pictures in order of events that are occurring.
  • Prepare the individual with Autism as much as possible to help them understand what will be happening during new events. Social stories are a great way to teach expectations in social situations. These stories could be used for events like 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 from the individual with ASD. It may be helpful to include pictures.
  • If travelling, prepare the person with Autism about how long it will take and give them favourable items to travel with (favourite shows on an 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.

Hands wishes everyone a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season and looks forward to healthy and happy New Year.