Holidays can be stressful for anyone, but for children on the autism spectrum, they can be extremely challenging. Visitors and changes in décor may distress them. Lights and holiday sounds can cause sensory overload, and children may reject holiday menus featuring unfamiliar foods. You can plan how to address the issues your child may face with these tips.

Creating Social Stories can be excellent preparation

Parents of a child on the autism spectrum understand that children can struggle with adjusting to disruption, spontaneity or change. During the holiday season, there can be a flurry of new activities. A helpful way parents can handle this time with their child is to create Social Stories. Parents can sit down with their children well in advance of a holiday event and write a story together about what is expected to happen. This technique, when parents and children give it enough time, may help ensure children are happier and calmer when the holiday season comes around.

It’s better to pace the child’s exposure to holiday elements

Pacing is critical during the holiday season. If parents break up activities such as decorating the house, putting up the tree, hanging lights and decorating the tree into smaller segments, it can help their child adjust. For example, to ease a tree into the home, parents can put the tree up on one day. Then they can let a day or two pass so the child can get used to that change. On another day, parents can decorate the tree. With the scheduled slow pace, the child can experience a sense of calm and remain in control.

Practice makes for fewer meltdowns and more joy

Before the holidays or a holiday-related event, parents can reinforce social cues by role playing and acting out situations that are likely to occur with their child. Social situations that role playing could help with include talking about holiday traditions, greeting people at the door and passing dishes while sitting at the dinner table. Even gift opening is something parents could practice doing with their child along with practicing how to express thanks to the giver.

Away from sights and smells, safe spaces can mitigate sensory overload

All of the excitement, smells, noise and movement of a party or gathering could cause stress for a child on the autism spectrum during the holidays. Parents may want to talk to the hosts of parties they plan to attend to ensure there will be a space that is calming for the child to get to quickly if he or she becomes overstimulated. A safe space can include drawing materials, toys, books and games. Even when entertaining in your own home, it is important to ensure a similar space is available.

Holidays focus on food, and children should have their favorites included

Food is always a big part of every holiday meal, and while trying new things can be exciting, for the picky eater, it is often a source of stress. Parents may want to consider having some of the child’s favorite foods available during a holiday dinner. It is especially helpful for parents to have the child’s favorites if the child is on a special diet.

Having empathy is a hallmark of the holidays

A part of showing compassion for the needs of others is having empathy. Parents can use pictures of people displaying various emotions to enhance their child’s emotional recognition skills from body language, facial expression and voice tone. Another helpful technique is to play charades or watch silent movie clips and discuss the feelings that are portrayed.

Visit the Therapeutic Options website for more information for parents of children on the autism spectrum.