How to Reduce Holiday Stress for Families of Children with Autism

5 ways to have a merry christmas sm

Holidays can be stressful and over-stimulating for anyone, but particularly for children with autism. We have pro tips from experts, such as when opening gifts as a family, try passing around an ornament to signal whose turn it is to open the next gift. This helps alleviate disorganization and the frustration of waiting.

Here are additional tips that help reduce anxiety in children with autism and increase your family’s enjoyment of the holiday season.  

Decorating

  • Decorate in gradual stages, rather than changing everything at once.
  • Allow your child to interact with the decorations and help put them in place.
  • Flashing lights or musical decorations can disturb some children. To see how your child will respond, experience these items in a store or someone else’s home first.  

Shopping

  • Last-minute holiday shopping can be stressful for children who rely on routines. Try to plan (and shop) ahead of deadlines.
  • If you take your child shopping, allow enough time to gradually adapt to the holiday stimuli in stores this time of year.

Family Routines

  • Meet as a family to discuss how to minimize disruptions in established routines and how to support positive behavior when disruptions are inevitable.
  • Continue using behavior support strategies during the holidays. Try social stories to help children cope with changes in routine, and visual supports to help prepare for more complicated days.
  • Try using a visual schedule if celebrating on more than one day (such as Hanukkah) to show when there will be parties/gifts and when there will not. 

Gifts

  • If you put gifts under a Christmas tree, prepare ahead of time by teaching that gifts are not to be opened without family there. Give your child a wrapped box and a reward for keeping it intact.
  • Wait until just before your holiday to set out gifts, especially large tempting ones.
  • When opening gifts as a family, try passing around an ornament to signal whose turn it is to open the next gift. This helps alleviate disorganization and the frustration of waiting.

 Play Time

  • Prepare siblings and young relatives to share their new gifts with others.
  • If necessary, consider giving your child a quiet space to play with his/her own gifts, away from the temptation of grabbing other children’s toys.

This information is provided by Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST), an agency providing autism services to individuals and families.  A prolific writer, Dr. Frea has a popular series of monthly parent tip sheets on various autism-related topics. Visit www.autismtherapies.com for more about autism, autism therapy, available funding and resources, and other useful advice.

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