Holiday Help for People with Autism

Here’s a few tips we’ve found can help make holidays more fun and less frantic for our learners with developmental disabilities.

  • Use visual supports as much as possible. Going to Uncle John and Aunt Mary, who you see once a year? Offer your child some photos of them, their home, their pets, etc. Ask family members to send you a quick pic of the house dressed for the holidays, etc.
  • Practice! A little role play goes a long way. Practicing “Trick or Treat,” picking 1 candy, and saying or signing “Thank you” ahead of the overstimulating Halloween day can help your child feel prepared and fluent with the expectations of the particular holiday.
  • Desensitize: Spend some calculated time in the holiday aisle to help your child get used to strange costumes, motion-activated decorations, twinkle lights,and the unusual sights and sounds of the holidays. Be sure to introduce all the new stimuli in small bites!
  • OAR recommends a “philosophy of one” ~ choose only 1 special event, 1 holiday outfit, 1 shopping trip… minimizing the commitments of the season overall.
  • Direct family members to an Wish List for your child ~ people want to give thoughtful gifts that your child will truly appreciate. Toys R Us releases an annual gift guide as well.
  • Check out Positively Reinforcing for some great social stories and additional resources.
  • Ask your home therapy team to spend time helping you to prepare for the upcoming holidays! Programs such as Unwrapping a Gift, Sitting at the Table (long meals!), and Asking for Help (Can your child signal if s/he is getting overwhelmed? Does s/he know how to ask you for help?) can make things go much more smoothly.
  • Autism Speaks has complied a great list of additional links and resources… the bottom line is, a little preparation can go a long way!
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