With Halloween now behind us, the rest of the holiday season is now in front of us. The holidays are meant to be times when families and friends come together to enjoy each other and just the opposite may be the case in families who have children on the spectrum.
It takes special consideration, thought and proactively preparing for the holidays to make them an enjoyable experience for everyone. So, now is the perfect time to start planning. It’s a constant balancing act between the needs of the child or children with special needs and the rest of the family. There are no right and wrong answers and what might work for one family may not work for another.
Below are some things to consider:
Will you be celebrating at home or away from home? Some people think that traveling is too difficult and it’s easier to have family or friends come visit you. There’s no doubt that the familiar environment of home has a sense of security, but remember, as soon as there are other people in the home and the routine changes, there are likely to be changes in your child as well. Anticipate those and changes and start talking and planning with your child now.
Get out a calendar and write, draw a picture or put a photograph of the visitors and when they arrive and leave. Use this to help your child see the beginning and end of this intrusion on his space. Find pictures of the relatives or friends that are coming to visit. Talk about where the visitors will stay (at your home or at a hotel).
Prepare visual schedules around the things you may be doing while having visitors in your home (e.g. visiting tourist sites in your town, shopping, sitting around and talking). Remember to make the schedules flexible so when things have to change, you’re able to help your child adapt to the change in plans. Using Velcro to move aspects of the day around on a schedule can help make it flexible. Also having a column on the schedule that is called ‘change’ in which you can add something not already planned for can be helpful.
If you’re traveling, remember to consider all aspects of the trip. Prepare your child for the airport, train station, bus, or car trip.
Use photos of previous trips or create photos to put together into an album that help prepare the child for the steps in the process. Remember, the things that you take for granted, are often the things that can set off a child with ASD. For example, practice leaving a backpack, favorite toy or item on the security belt while walking through the screener and then picking up the toy again
Prepare your child for the place they are going (e.g., relatives home or hotel). Again, pictures can be helpful here. For kids that have the interest and ability to appreciate it, try using Google Earth and Google Maps as a means of showing your child the place you are going. These are awesome tools. You can even get street views of places you plan to visit to help you know what to expect.
Try and anticipate what the experience will be like from your child’s perspective in order to prepare him or her and be willing to exclude your child from experiences you know will cause too much distress.
Know as much about the place you are going as possible. Sounds, sights, and smells are difficult to anticipate if you don’t know about the place you’re going.
Have a lot of activities your child can do independently so that he can be engaged, even if he chooses not to participate in the larger group. Remember to have appropriate food choices when traveling that your child will eat. Just like there are some people who come to Thanksgiving dinner and have a preference for white or dark meat, your child, too has preferences. Make sure they are available for him.
The more you can anticipate, the more enjoyable the holidays will be for everyone.