Blog #225~10 Autism Holiday Stress Tips
Let’s face it, holidays are stressful. Navigating the Christmas season with a child who has autism is even more demanding on families. My son, Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Individuals with autism rely on structure and predictability in their daily routines. When the holiday season rolls around it can provoke anxiety and lead to meltdowns. It is important to respect these feelings of uncertainty and provide as much predictability as possible.
Here are 10 ways to ease holiday stress and manage the upcoming weeks of festivities.
10 Autism Holiday Stress Tips:
1.Start early, get as much done ahead of time with holiday preparations. Rushing around trying to get things done last minute can provoke anxiety.
2. Pare down where you can, whether it’s decorations, presents, or parties. It’s okay to say no or bow out early. Flexibility is key!
3. Don’t rush, allow enough time to get from point A to point B. Give more notice when it is time to transition.
4. When possible, try to stick to daily routines.
5. Avoid surprises, prepare your child ahead of time. Make social stories using visuals or written words (depending on your child’s level of comprehension). This will act as a script for your child to follow. If they see what’s expected, they can understand the plan and this will lessen anxiety levels.
6. Provide pictures of family members and friends that you don’t see that often prior to visiting them. Notify family and friends of sensitivities and sensory behaviors your child may exhibit. Nick makes vocal stim sounds and taps objects which helps him to self-regulate. Some individuals with autism do not like hugs or fail to make eye contact. Family members might engage instead with a special handshake, high- five or Nick’s favorite, the elbow bump 🙂
7. When traveling or lodging outside your home, pack comfort items like toys, music, movies, electronic devices, weighted blankets/vests, snacks and comfort foods. Have these readily available.
8. Give your child opportunities to help out and reward with praise and your attention. Heavy work activities provide sensory input that is calming. Here are a few Nick enjoys…..
9. Know your child’s limits. There is so much sensory overload this time of year with excessive crowds, noises, lights and cramming too much into a day. This can be very overwhelming. So, watch for signs of distress (Nick will pinch his own cheeks, bite on his medical ID bracelet, yell and say I’m mad). It is essential to recognize these signs and cut it off at the pass, before behaviors escalate. Redirect with a break icon, and seek out a quiet spot. It may be necessary bailout here before behaviors escalate, to avoid a meltdown.
10. Allow for down time, to kick your feet up and relax. Weighted blankets are great for deep pressure that can help to calm the sensory system. I recently found out these blankets are available at Target. Hmmmmm……that sounds like a good excuse to go to Target. 🙂
Disruption in routines, schedules, and stimulating environments make for a holiday filled with fraught for individuals with autism. But preparing your child with as much structure as possible using visuals and having a bailout plan, will help keep the stress levels down. I hope that your holiday season is merry and bright. How do you to keep calm this time of year? Please share your secrets to surviving the holidays in the comments!
That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂
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