Typically during the Holidays many people expect it to be a great family time and a great deal of fun for the kids. However, this year the Holidays may be different for families due to inflation and families may not be able to afford gifts or special holiday food. Additionally there are two wars occurring in the world, in the United States there are on average two mass shooting a day (CDC) and the Country is in danger of closing down because Congress has failed to pass a budget. Furthermore, there is a significant increase in antisemitism and violence against people of Asian descent (CDC). Also the Coronavirus is still a factor families need to confront. In addition to these issues which are causing families stress, the Holidays can be a very difficult time for a child who has Autism or is on the Autistic spectrum or have other types of Cognitive Disabilities. For example, noise and having a lot of people being around can be upsetting to a child with Autism. However, due to inflation many families may not be having big gatherings, but they still will be having gatherings. Also many children on the spectrum are use to a certain daily routine. The festivities of the Holidays can disrupt their routine and upset them. Additionally, changes that need to be made due to inflation or other stressful events in the world can upset children and teenagers on the Spectrum. The changes may disrupt what they have come to expect from Holiday celebrations. Thanksgiving is around the corner so it will be the first test for this Holiday season. Parents can evaluate how Thanksgiving turned out and decide if they need to make any changes or adjustments to the upcoming Holiday activities during this Holiday season.
The Holidays, as I said above, are supposed to be a happy time. Therefore, when parents, who have a child on the autistic spectrum, see their child getting upset or agitated, it is difficult for them. Additionally, many parents who have children on the spectrum worry about how other people will react or judge their child. It would help, if we try to remember that children on the autistic spectrum are still children, they simply need some accommodations just like a child with a peanut allergy or who is ADHD.
All of this worry for the parents and change for the kids can make the Holidays a stressful time for autistic children. Also as I stated above, we may have significant changes to our Holidays in terms of what families can afford this year or tolerate. This may require changing some traditional Holiday activities and there may not be as many gifts this year as compared to other years.
While researching this issue, I did read a very good article by Lori Lite which has good ideas for parents to use during the Holidays. These ideas can help make the Holidays a happy time for your child and for your family. I would suggest trying these ideas and not worrying how other people may or may not judge your child. Being Autistic is nothing to be ashamed about. I treat many autistic children and they are usually very caring, smart children. We need to change our views regarding autism. It is a medical condition like diabetes or being blind. We make accommodations for children with these issues so we can make accommodations for a child with Autism. Therefore, try some of these ideas to help you and your child enjoy the Holidays.
Get Ready: Social stories, books, and movies can be a big help in preparing your child emotionally for holidays. Comfortable clothing and small dose exposures to holiday sounds can help physically. Think ahead with an eye for anxiety causing issues. If wrapping paper too loud? Use easy open bags or just decorate with a bow. Are the electronic bears with bells at Grandma’s house going to cause sensory overload? Ask her to unplug them before you get there. Let friends and family know about triggers ahead of time. If your child doesn’t like to be hugged suggest a handshake or just a wave. Your friends, family, and special needs children will be glad you did.
Prepare Your Children For Gatherings: Eliminate unnecessary anxiety associated with getting together with family members you rarely see by looking through photos of relatives prior to your event. Play memory games matching names to faces. This will help your children feel more comfortable with people they may not have seen in a while. Aunt Mary won’t seem quite so scary when she bends down to greet your child.
Use Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate deep breathing or other coping strategies into your day. Let your children see you use techniques when you are feeling stressed. Encourage them to use relaxation techniques on a daily basis. Breathing, visualizing, and positive thinking are powerful tools.
Incorporate Positive Statements Into Your Dinner: This is empowering and reflective. Each person at the table can state an attribute of their own that they are thankful for. For example, “I am thankful that I am creative.” Feeling stressed? Try, “I am thankful that I am calm.” Your special needs child can prepare ahead with a drawing or sign language if they want to participate without speaking.
Don’t Rush: It’s simple; none of us are very good at rushing in a relaxed way. The two just do not go together. It is impossible for children or teens to rush without getting angry. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the journey and avoid meltdowns. Children with special needs should be given notice of transitions.
Write Things Down: Getting the constant chatter and lists out of your head decreases stress and anxiety. Kids love making lists. Give them a clipboard or dry erase board. Help your child make a list of what they want to do for the holiday. It might be helping decorate or what to pack for self-care relaxation bag. This will help you relax and help your children feel involved. Encourage them to add happy words like laugh or draw a smile face on their list.
Schedule Downtime: Don’t overbook your children. It’s important to use holiday time for relaxation. Try staying in pajamas till noon. Pop your favorite popcorn and watch a movie when you wake up. You’ll be surprised how an hour or two of relaxation can rejuvenate your children’s bodies, minds, and spirits.
Shopping: Avoid taking your children shopping on the busiest shopping days of the year. The chaos, noise of large crowds, and long lines will definitely add stress to your life. If your child is absolutely known to meltdown during shopping you can select a few gifts and bring them home. Set up a shopping experience in your home for your child. The whole family can participate. Have a checkout counter and a gift-wrapping table.
Be Flexible: Relax your expectations and definitions of what a fun experience is for your children. Most of us do not need the full blown exhausting experience of holidays to reflect that we had a good time. A few positive minutes is worth a lifetime of memories!
Let The Children Participate: Let your children do one thing for the holiday that makes them feel proud. Kids can collect acorns or place a few jingle bells into a bowl for a beautiful stress free centerpiece. Children can fold the napkins or put the forks out. Let them draw a special picture to place on your guest’s chair. Be prepared to accept their participation as perfect and wonderful. Restrain for correcting or straightening out the napkins and enjoy the holidays with your special needs child!
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers, children on the Spectrum, trauma victims including first responders. Many of these children and teens are on the Autistic Spectrum. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or Facebook www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.