As the holidays approach many families are busy making arrangements for get togethers and perhaps traveling to another city or state via plane, train or automobile.
For the family that has a child on the autism spectrum you need to take into consideration the sensory overload effect this has on the child. Take a moment to consider your answers to the following questions before you plan and prepare for the upcoming holiday season.
What will your family really get out of packing and visiting other family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Is it better to have a function at your house where the comforts of home are readily available to the person with autism? Does the autistic person really want to eat all these foods, smell those new scents and hug all these strange people? Will the gifts at the end of the year be useful to the child or something that is beyond their comprehension?
As the single parent to two children with autism with no family in this state or invitations arriving at my mailbox, I have no issues with the holiday season. We put up our tree soon after Thanksgiving and keep it up sometimes until President's Day in late January. It all depends on my nonverbal son Matthew and whether he still shows interest in the decorations.
Preparation and planning are the key components to the holiday season for the family with someone on the autism spectrum. If you already have photographs from previous holiday seasons I suggest gathering them up and make a holiday photo album to use in identifying decorations, people, places and cuisine. Not only is it imperative to prepare the child with autism for these festivities, it is also crucial to share information about the child to the relatives he or she will be in contact with.
This would require gathering photos from therapy, school and home to show your child in various situations. Another idea would be to type out a typical day in the life of the child, what their strengths and weaknesses are. If you will be going over to Uncle Tom, Grandma Betty or Cousin Jerry's house for a holiday dinner, you should make a visit prior to the main one. Bring the child with autism along to test the waters and see what the danger zones are in the home. Take a notebook along and note where all the doors are located - whether it be to the garage, front or back yard.
Other areas to note is if they have a fireplace, wood burning stove, pets, pools or lakes nearby. Will there be lit candles around the home? Do they crank up the heat and then leave a window open? You should also inquire as to where the holiday tree will be if they will be having one. This will help so you could have a picture of a tree with you and show the child that this is where the tree will be when we come over for dinner.
Another option is to bring along a camera and take photos to develop before the event takes place to help remind the child of the location and key points. Make note of anything the child shows interest in. During this visit to the home you can bring along photos of the child and spend time discussing what will make the visit more pleasant for the child.
If the child reacts to perfume make note of this, should there be any dietary restrictions you can discuss and inform them that you will be bringing milk, bread, etc for the child to eat. Go over the seating arrangements to see what needs to be planned ahead.
For visiting relatives with your child on the autism spectrum you will need to pack a duffel bag of their favorite items. This can be some books, drawing paper and pen, stuffed animal and fidgets. If your child likes to watch certain movies bring along a portable DVD player with their CDs to listen to and DVDs to watch.
I used a notebook to write out all the supplies I would need when we went to San Diego for a few days to visit Sea World. I had schedules planned out showing a taxi, train and hotel for the way down there for the benefit of my nonverbal son. Both my high functioning son and I made a big deal each time the Sea World commercial came on and let him know we were going there to see Shamu. We kept repeating the same things over and over about the trip.
I would seriously consider whether traveling on a plane to visit relatives in another state is really a necessary step to enjoy the holidays. This is not something I would do. The train or car is more relaxing with you having more control on what you can watch and play with on the trip.
A key factor many miss when first dealing with a child who has autism is trying to fit the child into their world and lifestyle. Instead, try entering their world and making it more a relaxing holiday. There is a lot of planning involved and you cannot really let your guard down when elsewhere, and rely on a group of people to watch your child while engrossed in a conversation. Most tragedies with children on the spectrum occur during this time when groups are meeting and everyone thinks someone else was watching Tommy.
If missing out on holiday traditions with parties and dinners is not out of the question and it is a two parent household, you can alternate for the holidays and let one person stay home with the child. Do not expect your child to sit through a long meal eating and smelling foods they are not accustomed to. Make sure they are dressed comfortably.
This would be a good time to invest in those autism awareness shirts that can be found on cafe press and ebay for under twenty dollars. Whenever we go someplace my son Matthew wears one of his shirts to help let others know of his disability. Bring along business cards that explain autism and give them out to all the relatives. Take time to explain to other children that your child is not mean, rude or bad and bring along a book or two that explains autism to children.
Focus on the positive and not how horrible a time you are having at this party because of the child. This is why you need to consider the questions posted at the beginning to decide if you want to spend a hectic and crazed time over the holidays or relax and get to know your child and work on some home based therapies during the school break.
We do not attend any parties that the clinics have for families. It is another sensory overload event we do not need. There is no way I could connect with any parents as I need to stay focused on my kids. My children are not interested in face painting or clowns anyway.
Visiting Santa Claus would make a nice picture, but the torture the child goes through is not worth it in the end, as well as waiting in long lines. Take into consideration what the child must endure before making plans for holiday parties and other activities.
Help your child deal with the influx of people while teaching tolerance to relatives and other acquaintances you only see during the holiday season.
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.
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