Holidays are usually hectic for all parents. From buying gifts, preparing meals, and creating travel plans, there seem to be many things that parents should do. But, for parents with autistic children, these changes can trigger meltdowns. Children with a sensory processing disorder thrive on routines and consistency, both of which are compromised during the holiday season. Fortunately, there are some strategies one can use to ensure that everything goes smoothly for all family members. Here are ways you can make the holidays more fun for children with autism.
Coping with Extended Family Members
Autistic kids have a tough time coping with the extended family. That’s because not many families think about the special needs of an autistic person. They may not understand why your child doesn’t like the special meal prepared, why he/she is not watching TV with other people or playing with his/her cousins.
Parents should thus plan. First, identify which traditions might bring problems and how your kid will react. Then, one can plan on how they’ll deal with them and you can even share your plan with other family members.
Also, one should carry the necessary items. You can’t assume that you’ll find everything needed to make your child feel comfortable where you’re going. Therefore, pack essential items like your kid’s favorite blanket, pillows, foods, etc.
Parents should also explain their child’s needs to other family members so that nobody gets hurt. For instance, if he/she won’t eat new foods ensure that your family is informed about this. By giving your family hints/tips on how they should treat your child, they’ll also make him/her feel welcomed.
Dealing with Sensory Issues
Kids with autism often have adverse reactions to loud noises, bright lights, strong scents, and flavors. Well, since holidays are filled with these things, they can cause meltdowns. Parents should, therefore, avoid sensory challenges as much as they can. For instance, instead of taking your kid to shop with you, consider buying products online or find someone else to pick up what you need.
Again, parents should go with sensory-friendly options. Avoid decorating flashing lights on the Christmas tree. Instead, you can gently change lights as this may calm him/her. Fortunately, many countries have sensory-friendly Santas shops.
Additionally, one should have a backup plan. Children with autism may have unexpected reactions. While some can handle big crowds and noise, they can only do that for a short time. Therefore, if you’ll take your child on an event, have an alternate plan b, in case things get too overwhelming for him/her.
Stick to a Routine
Consistency is essential for kids with autism. A sudden change of routines may cause a full-time meltdown. Individuals should, therefore, create routines and strictly follow them. Avoid making plans on the go. This means that you have a consistent wakeup time, bedtime as well as mealtime schedules to ensure that days are well-structured.
Again, those who’ve planned for special activities should have a visual calendar to help the child know what and where they’ll happen. It’s also essential that you keep reminding your kid of any changes in the schedule so that they can be primed for the variations.
Keep Things Simple
Remember the idea is not to overwhelm your child or trigger meltdowns. Thus, even if you have other kids around, make sure that they understand why things should be simple. You can have a Christmas tree or wrap some presents without going overboard. However, this doesn’t mean that your other kids shouldn’t enjoy their holiday too. If there is any tradition they like, give them a chance to enjoy it.
Travel with Care
Travelling can quickly change a child’s routine. Although long car or airplane rides are fun, he/she may not enjoy them since they’re significant deviations from a normal day. Thus, if you’ll take long trips, ensure that you plan ahead. Parents should remind their children what’ll be happening throughout the journey. Experts encourage that you use visuals or write a short story to explain this. Plus, one should also watch video stories online on what they should expect and how they should behave when traveling with an autistic child on the airplane. Again, having toys, snacks, headphones and comfortable wear will help keep him/her distracted when traveling.
Don’t Forget the ABCs of Behavior
ABC stands for antecedents, behavior, and consequence. Anything that triggers a problematic behavior is an antecedent, while consequences happen after a behavior occurs. Parents should, therefore, know potential triggers and avoid them as much as possible. Also, one should provide consequences that will discourage the behavior from happening again or encourage it depending on what the behavior was.
However, note that it can sometimes be difficult to respond to certain behaviors, for instance, if he/she is kicking you. In such cases, yelling for them to STOP doing that can be a temporary fix.
Well, parenting an autistic child is not easy. They have many special needs one should think of, to offer the best care. But, planning is essential during the holidays as that will help prevent meltdowns.