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Preparing for the Holiday Season with Your Child on the Spectrum

The holiday season can be a stressful time for everyone. Chaotic schedules, new foods, large family gatherings, and unpredictable weather can all build up and create a perfect storm. For those on the spectrum and those who struggle with sensory issues or anxiety, this time of the year can become a nightmare.

Now that we have entered November, most would say the holiday season has officially started. This means all of this potential stress is right around the corner. Not every holiday event has to be an issue though. With proper planning and preparation, your child and your family can have a more enjoyable experience this year.

The first thing to remember is: everyone’s family is different. This means everyone’s holiday season and experiences will also be different. What works great for one family, may not work at all for another. Yet another reason why preparing for different scenarios and situations that may arise during this time of the year is very important.

Preparing Your Child: 

When helping your child navigate this stressful time, it is important to remember every child will handle these situations differently. Thorough preparation to help them navigate these events is the key to success. You can start with social stories that are holiday-oriented. Situations such as eating different foods, opening up presents, and traveling to relatives’ houses, are all scenarios that can be used in a social story. You can find some of our favorite social stories on the holidays here.

These stories can be started a few weeks in advance and be paired with other forms of dialogue about the holidays and the events that are about to happen. Talking about it ahead of time gives your child a chance to get excited and ask questions/express any concerns with plenty of time to help them.

Another step is to walk your child through the expected behaviors that only happen this time of year. For Thanksgiving, it could be working on sitting at the table and eating a turkey dinner. For Christmas, it could be opening up presents and putting out cookies for Santa Claus. Working through this ahead of time can reduce some of the anxiety and uncertainty of the holiday.

Preparing Your Family: 

Along with preparing your child on the spectrum, it is also important to educate and prepare your family to celebrate the holiday the best way possible with your child. For example, if your child doesn’t like to show/receive physical affection, make sure your family members are aware ahead of time. This will spare hurt feelings and hopefully avoid putting your child into an uncomfortable situation.

Another example is if your child has a picky palette and you need to provide separate food for them. You can either coordinate with the host of the meal so they have your child’s food ready to serve, or just let them know you will be supplying your own food for them. Either way, this open communication channel allows everyone to be on board with your holiday plan and help to make your child as comfortable as possible during the holidays.

Overall, it is important to remember that every holiday gathering is different. Whether you stay at home or travel far, celebrate big or small, or if your child does well with the holiday season or struggles…as long as you are spending time together and your child is happy, that is all that matters. We hope some of these tips benefit your family. If you are looking for more ideas on preparing your child or your family for this upcoming holiday season you can click here.

PHI wishes everyone a joyful holiday season!



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