The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is a joyful and stressful time for many. For families of individuals on the autism spectrum, the holiday may prove to have some unique challenges. It is important for families of individuals with autism to consider these challenges and plan ahead in hopes to lessen the stressful times and increase success and joy for everyone. Let’s review some helpful strategies that you might consider implementing this holiday season.
1. The Importance of the schedule
Individuals with autism thrive on a consistent and predictable schedule. When the schedule is disrupted, problem behavior may occur. While your holiday season is likely to be less structured, it can be helpful to create a schedule and remain consistent with following it. Following a consistent schedule, may reduce problem behavior. Keeping consistent wake up times, bedtimes, mealtimes, and activities throughout the day will help ensure your child’s schedule is consistent and predictable. Your child may need a visual and preparation (e.g. visual schedule, calendar) of any changes to the schedule. If your child is receiving therapy, it is important to keep therapy appointments throughout the season.
2. Preparation for new events and changes
With the holiday season brings a time of new events and changes to the schedule and environment. These changes may be difficult for an individual with autism. Preparation for these changes it key! Preparation for new events and changes can be done in a variety of ways and should begin weeks to days in advance from the change. Some individuals may need a visual schedule or calendar that includes new events and changes that will occur. To prepare the individual, the schedule may need to be reviewed several times. Other times, a script may need to be reviewed, modeled, and practiced with the individual so they feel prepared. If you are traveling, preparation should occur. While traveling, pack your child’s favorite things to have available to keep them busy during the flight (e.g. favorite snacks, toys). It may be helpful to have your child walk around the airport in advance to get used to the environment.
3. Parties, Parties, and More Parties: Less might be More!
Holiday parties bring many people, noises, and extra distractions that may be difficult for an individual with autism. It is important to know your child’s limits and gradually extend the amount of time spent at a party. It may be helpful to practice this situation with your child prior to attending a party by using a script. With a script you can help to prepare your child on what to expect at the party and how your child should act. You can prepare scenarios that include how to greet others, how to engage in activities, as well as what to do and where your child should go if he or she feels overwhelmed. When your child begins to feel overwhelmed, encourage your child to communicate he or she needs a break and allow your child to go to an area they find reinforcing to take a break. Asking your child to stay at the entire party might be too much at first. Reinforcing small amounts of time and then increasing the time might be the right way to go. Being successful for achieving small steps to the end goal should be celebrated!
4. Connect with your Community
During the holiday season your community may offer additional resources, support, and activities for children with autism. Your community can be a great resource during this time. Many communities offer special and free events or activities for families of children who have autism spectrum disorders. These events provide safe and understanding environments as well as a time for families who are going through similar situations to connect with one another. To find out more information about activities in your area, it can be helpful to connect with local autism groups.
With all the newness and change the holiday season brings, it will be important to continue to support your child’s behavior and celebrate his or her successes. If your child has a behavior plan it will be important to continue to follow it during this time. Keep in mind the ABC’s (antecedent, behavior, consequence) of behavior. The antecedent comes before behavior and triggers it and the consequence is how you or others respond to the behavior. Keep track of behaviors and note any new behaviors that occur. When your child engages in new appropriate behavior and other behaviors that you want to see, provide reinforcement. When your child is successful in a new situation or at a party, provide reinforcement. Reinforcement may occur as praise, physical (e.g. high fives, hugs, pat on the back), or tangible items (e.g. toys, trinkets, activities, privileges). Reinforcing the behaviors that you do want to see, will increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the future.
We hope that these strategies will help your child to be successful this holiday season and that your family experiences less stress and more joy that comes with the celebration of your child’s successes. Have a wonderful holiday season!
- Holiday tips. Retrieved from www.autism-society.org
- Bears, K., Johnson, C., Handen, B., Butter, E., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., & Scahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior: the RUBI autism network, parent workbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.