It is slowly becoming that time of year again. Leaves are already starting to change here in Michigan. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are mercifully dropping from the scorching summer heat.
That means it is time for the holiday season to begin. Was that a collective shudder? Great, so it wasn’t just me! The holidays can be stressful even during the best of times. Throwing in a family member with specific needs only adds to the difficulty. So, to help potentially reduce some of the stress here are a few tips and tricks.
- Stick to your routines: Trying to stay on a schedule during the holidays is… challenging? What is halfway between difficult and impossible? (Anyone else have this struggle or is it just me?) However, structure is critical to success for any child not just someone with ASD. Keep bedtimes and other routines as close to normal as possible. It may make things more complicated during the holiday, but the transition back to “normal” life will be far smoother.
- Have realistic expectations: You know your child’s limits in the best and worst of times. Expecting perfection or trying to push their boundaries is likely to just set yourself up for additional stress and pressure. Set realistic expectations for how long to spend at events and what level of engagement you want to see.
- Make sure everyone is on the same page: Nothing is more frustrating than when you noticed great aunt Susan slipping your child candy because “it will keep him/her quiet” as soon as they start to cry. What started as a well meaning gesture is now going to be a significant hurdle you have to overcome. The holidays are a time to be lax, but make sure that everyone is aware of what to do in case problem behavior occurs so you don’t run the risk of undoing any work you have done.
- Have an escape route/safe space: This is just as much for your child’s benefit as it is for you. Have a specified space away from everyone that is the “safe space.” This is a room where the lights are dimmed, maybe some calming music, and a preferred activity. If you notice your child getting a little overstimulated take them to the safe space. Give them some time to decompress and relax. If your child is able to reliably request things, show it to them before hand and show them how to request it. This is a great way to not only help your child through a difficult time, but teaching a valuable life skill at the same time: it’s ok to say I need a break.
- Have a visual schedule: Having a visual schedule of activities can be incredibly helpful, particularly if visual schedules work well for your child in other settings. These types of schedules are excellent if telling time or the abstract concepts of time management are beyond your child’s skills at the moment. That way there is an easy to access way to see what is coming up and when.
- Social stories: Creating a social story about what to expect during the day can be helpful. Describe the activities in detail and go over what to expect.
- Come prepared: Make sure you have everything you will need to be successful. Things like charging cables, preferred snacks and comfort objects can be great reinforcers in a pinch.
- Don’t forget your ABA: Remember to reinforce behavior you want to see. Catch your child being good and make sure you are telling them what they are doing right. It may seem like a small thing, but these can go a long way.
Unfortunately, we can’t make the holidays less stressful. However, we can do things to ease them a bit so they are less difficult. Making sure that we stick to routines and prepare ahead of time will mean a smoother transition and hopefully fewer headaches.