Ways To Help Your Child On The Spectrum Through The Hubub Of The Holidays

This week, a parent asked:
What are some strategies I can use to help my child get through the holiday season?

The holiday season means a lot of change, and seeing/interacting with other people that may not know much about autism, and it is often up to our close family members, friends, and support to advocate for us when we are not able to do so ourselves.

At holiday gatherings I generally get very quiet and “shutdown” because so much is going on, and I rely on others to help me through.The holiday season can be extremely overwhelming for autistic individuals, for many reasons. Some of the big reasons are:

1. more human interaction
2. changes in routines and environment
3. different rules & social expectations
4. visiting family & taking vacations
5. surprises
6. lots of rushed and grumpy shoppers
7. more change!

For these reasons it is especially important, during the holidays, for any autistic person to have:

1. a way to communicate basic needs, emotions, opinions (a travel dry erase board, sticky notes with simple language on each, a typing program on a phone, tablet, or laptop, a notebook to write in, et cetra)
2. a safe place to retreat to in times of a needed break from others, escalation, and meltdowns
3. guidance to remember to take breaks, and to stim (it may make him/her feel more comfortable to see you stim with them)
4. allowing extra time for transitions (from place to place, new things, activities, getting ready to leave home, et cetera)
comfortable clothes (soft cotton and loose clothing is the best)
5. sensory helper suggestions: ear protectors, sunglasses, hat, pressure clothing, a blanket, fidgets toys, gloves, etc
6. a drawn or written visual reminder sheet of what is available to use to relax, play with, self regulate
7. a drawn or written sheet of rules/guidelines, and approximate schedule (with approximate times if possible) of any place that will be visited during the holiday season
8. predictable holiday traditions from year to year, which creates a better knowing of what is to come

Usually, I am anti-holiday because holidays are so intense and different. But I very much love bright colors, lights and the smell of trees. So, this year I am excited to attempt ‘getting into the holiday spirit’. I have been preparing for a moment like this for years. I am quite excited about it!

I have no idea how this holiday will go, but I want to try. My mom has avoided much holiday celebration to respect my processing limitations and sensory issues, and I feel comfortable enough in my present home to try and give some of that holiday back to her, in a way that is comfortable and fun for us all.

It is never too late to try something new … in a very predictable way.

If I could, I would give every autistic child and adult an iPad and noise-canceling headphones for the holidays.

Anabelle Listic is a 27 year-old artist living is Seattle and is a film and digital photographer. Anabelle has autism and is profoundly visual. She is passionate about her art and about mentoring parents and kids living life on the autism spectrum. Find more of Anabelle’s work and insight by following her Blog, Twitter and Facebook.