Reducing Holiday Stress for Families of Children with Autism

With the holidays rapidly approaching, families start to prepare for the onslaught of copious amounts of food, time spent with family, family visitors, shopping, decorating, school vacations, and all the expected hustle and bustle of the holiday session.

Not only do the holidays emphasize good times, Yule tide, and cheer the season also brings along elevated levels of stress for families, this can be especially true for families of children with autism.

Schedule changes, unexpected transitions, unstructured time, and even a break in services can lead to children experiencing increased stress and can lead to their parents and families feeling increased amounts of stress. Here are some tips to help reduce the holiday stress for your child and hopefully yourself as well:

Planning and Preparation – Help your child prepare for the holiday session. Make family trips, school end/start dates, and other important events on a calendar that the child can see. Help count down or review upcoming events so your child will be prepared.

Limit Surprises – Limit unexpected events or visitors, remind your child of what to expect, what behavior is expected, and what will be occurring during the day.

Reinforce Behavior – Establish what the child can earn daily or throughout the day for engaging in appropriate behavior. Explain what is expected and what the child will earn to increase positive behaviors.

Small Changes – If you are anticipating decorating the house, do it in small steps instead of changing the environment all on one day. Perhaps hang lights one day, decorate interior the next, then the tree, and then final trimmings.

Keep a Consistent Schedule -  Even if school or services pause over the holidays continue to have the child wake up around the same time, complete the daily dressing routine, follow the same eating schedule, and keep the night routine as consistent as possible.

Practice, Practice, Practice – Create opportunities for learning; social stories, role-play, model what is polite and appropriate behavior when receiving gifts, waiting for others to open gifts, or when visiting another adult’s house.

Relaxation Strategies – Practice calming and relaxation strategies if you or your child is experiencing increased levels of stress or if they are over stimulated.

Be Flexible – Many times things won’t go as planned or simple events like shopping take longer than expected, that is ok, remember to remain calm and go with the flow

Enjoy Your Child – Make time to enjoy your child by sharing a fun activity or just being with your child, remember sometimes things are hard for them but with some forethought and planning you can help to reduce the stress that comes with the holiday session.