Planning is the key to enjoying any special occasion. This is especially true when you have family members on the spectrum. With their normal routine disrupted, it’s important to prepare them well in advance so as to minimize their anxiety and potential meltdowns. Don’t be afraid to start some new holiday traditions that make the holiday times less stressful for you.
Here are 10 simple tips that can help you and your “Aspie” child enjoy the holiday season more:
1. Invite your “Aspie” child to help decorate your home, so he or she is actively involved in changing their environment. Sounds, smells, and bustling activity can cause sensory overload, so you may need to limit the type and quantity of holiday cheer. For example, you may want to limit the volume and time you play holiday music. You may want to choose subdued lighting instead of the flashing and twinkling lights.
2. Rehearse the scheduled events with your child (either in written or picture form). If you create a wall chart that counts down the days, post photos of all the people who will attend and help your child get to know them in advance. Talk about what activities will take place, where they will happen, how loud it will be, how many people will attend, and what behavior is expected. Knowing what’s next helps ASD children feel less anxiety.
3. Make treats that your child can eat so he or she doesn’t feel left out. Be sure to make enough to share. When it’s on the table amidst the other goodies, it makes your child feel like they fit in. Don’t give in to the peer pressure of, “But this is the holiday; let him have some of this cake…” You know how eating certain foods contributes to meltdowns. Instead, offer one of your special treats.
4. Make your child’s sleep schedule a priority. If traveling away from home, it may be helpful to bring your child’s normal sheets and pillows so he or she can sleep more peacefully.
5. If you need dress clothes for family pictures, change your child into soft clothes as soon as possible. Avoid the temptation to make your child wear new clothes from Grandma, until you’ve washed them several times and removed the tags.
6. If you’re going to travel by plane, bring earplugs so your child can listen to a favorite program or music. It will drown out the noise of the plane and the surrounding people, and it’s calming.
7. Take a few of your child’s favorite toys, games, or books. When your child needs some downtime or distraction, there will be something familiar to comfort them.
8. Give your child a code word to use if he or she feels overwhelmed. This provides a feeling of control and helps them remain calm. Be sure your child knows that you will respond right away when this code word is used.
9. Briefly explain “Asperger’s” to supportive family and friends so they know what to expect and how to respond. If you have a few people who will act as a buffer against those who refuse to understand, it gives you some breathing room and you won’t feel so alone.
10. Make sure someone is always committed to watching your child. If you do this in shifts, everyone will have time to have fun. Have a pre-assigned way to tactfully “tag” the next person when their shift begins.
I hope these tips help you experience a happy and enjoyable holiday season!
What if the person with “Asperger’s” is your spouse? Don’t forget that the holidays can be stressful for them as well. You may want to pick up a copy of my book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD). It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. It will help you understand your “Aspie” better. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.