Fun Time with the Whole Family
As the leaves turn from green to orange-y yellow, many homes touched by autism are on the verge of bursting at the seams from the crazy mix of excitement and anxiety. Holidays have always been perceived as a momentous occasion for family and friends to celebrate good food, unlimited conversations, and fun activities. To many families touched by autism, the holidays can also bring in a lot of challenges not only to the kids with autism but to everyone as well.
So, whether you are celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanza, Halloween, Ramadan, or Thanksgiving, it is important to understand how the sudden onslaught of audio-visual stimuli can put so much challenge to holiday celebrations. For families with a first-time diagnosis, I have personally recount how our family and that of some of my friends have gone through all the chaos and joy of preparing for the long haul ahead.
- It is important to tackle holiday plans as a family. Yes, you will need all the support that you can get to ensure minimizing, if not eliminating, disruptions to routines. If changes to established routines are inevitable then, it is also important to ask assistance from all family members to ensure that positive behavior be instilled.
- Plan ahead of time for activities. Do you intend to travel for Thanksgiving to visit family members? Are you expecting visitors in your home? Depending on a child’s capacity to understand and absorb the chaos that holiday visits bring, it is important that you communicate clearly certain expectations and for those people involved to at least be aware of your child’s needs.
- If you plan to go traveling for the holidays, do check if your local airport has Wings for Autism program. This is a national initiative allowing airports to give some sort of “rehearsal” for families and individuals with autism to better prepare and raise awareness among aviation personnel. If planning on a long land trip, be prepared to have items or materials that will keep him or her occupied while on the road. Make good use of handy gadgets at this stage.
- Create a visual schedule for your child. Our family loves to celebrate and travel is also part and parcel of our yearly schedule. So, what I do is plan ahead of time and brief John on what to expect from each holiday travel or celebration by using visual calendars. Turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas tree for Christmas, and costumes for Halloween—these are just some awesome visual schedule to help relate your child to a particular holiday season.
- If you love to decorate like me, do it gradually. Never change the whole place’s ambiance—all at once. Be reminded that most kids with autism can’t take in flashing lights, glittery ornaments, or decorations with music. To check of your child’s reaction, allow him or her to interact with them beforehand in the store or a friend’s home. I would tag John along to the nearest home depot to check for his reaction.
- A family photo session is going to be an uphill climb at first. The key here is to set up everything in advance and putting your child last into the frame. This prevents him from going into a meltdown from all the commotion of balancing spaces particularly for families in huge numbers. If possible, go for candid shots and make it fast. John loves to ham it up for the camera now but, it was not that way growing up.
- As much as possible, do holiday shopping alone or do it online. The marketing ploys of many stores can be too much for children with autism. Think about blaring sounds, twinkling lights, or out-of-this-world decors. Feel free to check though for any autism-friendly outlets which allow families to shop an hour in advance preventing all that stimuli from causing your child to have a meltdown. Some shopping centers also have this “quiet room” to give kids with autism breathing space.
Do not be discouraged if things do not go according to your plans for the holidays. There are many ways to help reduce stress brought by the holidays while enhancing your child’s positive reception of the festivities. The key is to plan in earnest and make sure that initiatives being undertaken are pointed at creating happy memories together.