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How to Deck the Halls for a Child with Autism

It’s an understatement to say that the holidays come with a fair bit of sensory overload for any individual. From the countless light displays to the Christmas music pouring out of every speaker imaginable, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the holidays.


But for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, these holiday traditions that we take for granted can be all the more dangerous and challenging. After all, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, or Kwanza, each holiday comes with its own bombardment of visual and audio stimuli and increase in human interaction that can prove extremely difficult for a child with autism, resulting in noticeable behavioral and psychological challenges that can prove rather problematic.


Thus, as the Holiday season gets truly under way, we’ve put together a brief guide on how you can protect your child from getting swept up by the hustle and bustle of the holidays.


First and foremost, communication is key in preparing not just your child, but your friends and family as well for what to expect and how to best prepare for your impending visit, meaning making them as aware as possible of any sensitivities or behavioral issues that might occur. On the other side of the equation, it is imperative to talk with your child about what lies ahead and to ask ahead of time if there will be any pets, additional guests, and the layout of the house so that you know well ahead what to prepare for.


Secondly, once you’ve collected the most pertinent information about the house you will be visiting, then you can truly plan in advance for how to best handle this change in venue and atmosphere. If your child has any food sensitivities, be sure to prepare a dish in advance to ensure you child will have something he or she enjoys eating. In addition, prepare a bag with the toys and devices—such as an iPad or videos—that you know your child will want to engage with. At the same time, you want to encourage interactivity with your hosts and fellow guests so be sure to create a means by which your child can engage with the other guests and children, such as a hobby that your child enjoys sharing.


Thirdly, as the holidays often bring along attending religious services, be sure to prepare your child in advance for where the service will be held, visiting the church, temple, or mosque beforehand to best prepare your child. In addition, rehearsing routines like prayer or communion will best help to ready your child for any social engagement they might encounter.


Finally, as the holidays often require a significant amount of traveling, be prepared to pack a number of activities and toys that your child will enjoy to pass the time and not get overwhelmed by traveling in a car or airplane. In addition, do your research in advance to prepare for any restrictions or interruptions that might cause your child distress.


By taking these four steps prior to jumping headfirst into the holidays, you can ensure smooth sailing for the majority of the holiday season.