By: Krystal McFee, M.A., BCBA, Director, Research and Early Intervention for Engage Behavioral Health
For most people, the holiday season is the most hectic time of the year. Whether it’s coordinating family travel, entertaining visitors of your own or finding the right gift for each person on your list, preparation is key for successful holiday experiences.
With an estimated one in 88 children in the United States born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), many parents are facing new challenges this holiday season in addition to the distinct ones they encounter every day. Fortunately, these challenges can be met by taking some extra measures to assure their children are prepared for the holiday season.
In working with children with autism at Engage Behavioral Health since 2008, I’ve seen firsthand how some of these small tips can make huge differences for families during the holidays:
1. Review pictures from previous holidays to help prepare. Talk about specific activities, like visiting Santa, lighting the menorah or opening gifts. Be sure to take lots of pictures this year so you can prepare the same way next year.
2. Pace your holiday activities so that your children do not become overwhelmed. Pack activity bags for holiday events that include favorite toys and games. These will help you take breaks away from stressful holiday activities or events if necessary.
3. Bring food and drinks that are on your children’s diets in case they are not provided at events. Bring the food items they enjoy most so they are more likely to eat and less likely to be frustrated if denied access to other food items at holiday events.
4. Allow your children to open gifts at their own paces and take breaks to play with new toys if they choose to do so. This will help them avoid becoming overwhelmed.
5. Involve your children in holiday activities (baking pumpkin pie, decorating the tree, shopping for gifts). Give them specific roles and work together as a family, using visual task lists to make each step clear.
6. Role-play opening gifts and talk about why gifts are exchanged during the holidays. Providing specific information on holiday traditions is important to make these events more meaningful.
7. Create or buy gifts for relatives together. Talk about what types of items others might like and how they will feel after opening their gifts. You can also wrap the gifts together, having them tear the paper, apply the tape or perform other specific roles to keep them engaged in the activity.
8. Watch movies, read books and sing songs about the holidays. Try to pick fun activities that are similar to events you will attend. Talk with them about when and where they will be doing these activities.
9. Create wish lists of fun, educational toys using content from magazines, advertisements and websites. Review this list with teachers and professionals that are part of your children’s lives. Then, send your relatives the list for gift ideas.
10. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, remember to relax and enjoy the holidays! Have fun together, focusing on time with family and making new memories.
About Engage Behavioral Health
Engage Behavioral Health, formerly Advanced Behavioral Systems, is a leading provider of Applied Behavior Analysis and Applied Verbal Behavior services. Engage’s unique, collaborative approach brings parents and health care providers together to provide treatment within a safe, natural environment. Through research-based, data-driven methods, Engage focuses on the needs of both individuals and their families. For more information, please visit www.EngageBehavioralHealth.com. Follow on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/EngageBehavioralHealth, or on Twitter at @Engage_ABA.