As we approach the last few holidays in 2023, Action Behavior Centers is thrilled to revisit and expand on our guide to navigating the holidays with children on the autism spectrum. We understand the unique challenges these celebrations can pose, and our clinicians have gathered even more family-friendly tips to ensure a smoother and more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
As the holiday spirit fills the air, Christmas and New Year's present wonderful opportunities for families to bond. However, we recognize that these joyous occasions can bring about specific challenges for children on the spectrum. Our goal is to provide support and insights that cater to your child's unique nature and preferences.
- Communication with Family and Friends:
Take proactive steps by explaining your child's needs to family members and friends who will be interacting with them. While you can't control every interaction, setting expectations and being ready to intervene when necessary can help create a supportive environment.
- Identify an Escape Plan:
If you are planning to be in a public place, make sure you have identified a safe and quiet space for your child to exit the experience. If you aren’t sure, please call ahead. It can be important to have an alternative plan in the event that the experience becomes overwhelming for your child.
- Comfort Items:
If possible, bring familiar toys or items along with you. Whether it’s a fidget toy or a stuffed animal, these items can help your child remain calm during a stressful situation. Some autistic children may even benefit from noise-canceling headphones and sunglasses. These can help keep auditory and visual stimulation to a minimum.
- Flexibility and Reasonable Expectations:
Recognize that having a child on the spectrum may introduce obstacles to your usual holiday routine. Embrace flexibility and set reasonable expectations for your family's holiday experience, allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable celebration.
- Social Skill Adaption and Pretend Play:
Christmas is an exciting time for your child to engage in social skill adaption and pretend play. Encourage these activities tailored to their comfort level, fostering an environment that allows them to explore and enjoy the festivities at their own pace.
- Sensory Exploration:
Acknowledge the sensory aspects of the season and choose activities that align with your child's comfort zone. If loud noises overwhelm them, consider alternatives to activities like a train visit. For those uncomfortable with large crowds, opt for an in-home photographer to capture precious moments without the stress of long lines.
- Preparation Through Media:
Build anticipation and familiarity with the holiday season by watching movies, reading stories, and listening to music ahead of outside activities. This preparation helps your child develop an interest in the festivities, making them more aware of common characters and themes associated with Christmas.
- Personalized Holiday Activities:
Eliminate unnecessary struggles by incorporating your child's preferences into cooking, decorating, and planning family activities. Opt for options that have proven successful in the past, reducing stress and ensuring a smoother flow of events. To assist in this, here are a few autism-friendly activities that can be fun for the whole family.
- A Christmas Lights Tour. Walking through tunnels of glowing lights creates a wonderful opportunity to explore the senses and capture some amazing family photos. If you’re concerned this experience might be overwhelming for your child, an exciting alternative could be a drive thru Christmas light show. Your child can wear their favorite PJs, bring a snack, and enjoy the glowing lights from the comfort of your own car. You can even play Christmas themed songs along the way and some drive thru locations have coordinated music you tune in to on your radio.
- Caring Santa at Simon Malls. Simon Malls across the U.S. have created a magical Christmas experience for children with autism and other disabilities. ‘Noerr’s Santa Photo Experience’ has partnered with Simon Malls to provide a more calm and welcoming environment to visit. Caring Santa is an opportunity for your autistic child to have a memorable Christmas experience with Santa. This is a reservation-based program, so for more information on how to reserve your appointment for a private photo experience, click here.
- The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker can be considered a classic winter show. However, we know how challenging it can be for any kid to sit and observe a full-length ballet. Parents with autistic kids have begun to completely scrap the idea of attending a ballet. But ballet companies across the U.S. are adapting to create a supportive experience for children and adults with autism. Select ballet companies have created shorter, more sensory-friendly versions of the ballet to encourage families with autistic children to give it a try.
- Holiday Movies at Studio Movie Grill. Studio Movie Grill hosts special screenings for children with autism and other disabilities. These screenings are shown with the lights up and the volume lowered. Children are free to move around, talk, or even dance in the aisles during the movie. These sensory friendly screenings are free for children with autism or any other disability and their siblings. Adult tickets are available at before-noon price. While you can’t buy tickets online, simply contact the nearest location if your family wishes to attend.
- Making Play Snow. Unfortunately, every child doesn’t get to experience a snowy season. A great sensory friendly activity can be to make your own. All you need is baking soda and shaving cream! Mix it together, and have fun! If you really want to get creative, use ice cubes to make igloos and add in some toy penguins.
- Christmas Stories In a Blanket Fort. Sometimes the warm and cozy feeling is exactly what we need during the holidays. This can be a great time to build a fort and read some of their favorite Christmas stories. You can even add some Christmas lights to your fort and drink some hot chocolate. Make it fun and memorable.
- Make Christmas Ornaments. A great way to incorporate your child with the decorating process is to have them hand make Christmas tree ornaments. This gives them creative freedom while keeping them busy. It also allows them to get used to the Holiday feeling. Get creative and let your child bring the Christmas tree to life from their perspective.
Just like every child is unique, every family has its own dynamics. There's no one-size-fits-all formula for a perfect holiday, but by practicing skills prior to activities, preparing backup plans, and remaining flexible, you can create lasting memories with your child.
As we embrace the magic of Christmas and welcome the New Year, Action Behavior Centers wishes you and your family a joyful and harmonious holiday season. Here's to creating wonderful memories together!"
At Action Behavior Centers, we strive to provide compassionate care for children on the autism spectrum. We believe that early Intervention can be a great foundation in building a brighter future with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. ABC is committed to getting your child started as soon as possible because every moment counts.