Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

December 14, 2021

Preparing Children with Autism for the Holidays

By Ariel Castillo, RBT, and Chelle Stoneburg, BCBA

Holidays are a time for cheer and spending them with the ones we love and cherish. Holidays can also be busy and stressful for anyone, including children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.) The holidays bring more loud noises, crowded spaces, and different kinds of smells. They bring bright lights, unfamiliar people, and new environments. These changes may impact all children, but especially those with social or sensory differences. Here’s some tips on how to prepare for the holiday season:

  • Keep to a schedule – as best you can, aim for your usual wakeup, nap, and bed times. Small changes in the schedule are necessary at this time, so try to anticipate your child’s needs based on their schedule. Pack an extra snack, or bring a cozy blanket if you’re out during lunch or nap.
  • Role play and prepare – This can help children prepare for future events, such as visiting Santa, going through airport security, or waiting to open a present. Watch videos online, read books, and act out the scene ahead of time. Kids love to see their parents assume the role of toddler- give it a try! If there is a new experience, understand that surprises may not be received well.
  • Provide breaks – Everyone needs a little time to recharge during this season, particularly young children. Communicate with family and hosts beforehand how long you anticipate to stay at an event. Try to provide a break before your child seems to “need” it. See if you can arrange a quieter room with dim lighting so they can have some alone time.
  • Provide familiar activities – Bring favorite activities, books, and games your child enjoys. This can be particularly helpful at unfamiliar homes, where they may not be toys appropriate for your child.
  • Ask about accommodations – Most large holiday events offer some sensory accommodations, such as headphones, special seating, or early access. While enjoying your community activities, reach out to organizers to see what may be available!