Holiday Season and ABA therapy: How to make the best of the holiday break with a child with autism

This time of the year, is a special one for families no matter what holiday is celebrated. Families and friends to together physically or virtually, decorate, and share special moments. For some children with autism, this time of year can be more challenging. Routines are changed, the house looks different, more family is around, and much more.

Autism Speaks recently shared some helpful ways to structure the holidays to make things a little easier around the house. Here are some great tips to prepare you for this hectic and special time of year!

Before School or Therapy Break:

  • Talk to your kiddo about what it means to have some time off. Prepare them for not having school or therapy sessions. An easy way to explain what a break is like is to say it is like having an extra-long weekend!
  • Reach out and connect with your child’s support team. This could be their BCBA or ABA therapist. Ask about any supports or ways to structure the day that they can help you prepare ahead of time.
  • Prepare your child a couple weeks ahead. Some children with autism do best when there is a countdown on a calendar or a visual to know when a break is coming.

During the Break:

  • Try to keep as much structure and routine as you can.
  • Allow time for breaks in the day. Giving your child short breaks between any activities or family events can help them self-regulate and help with any challenging behaviors or emotions.
  • Be Flexible. This is a big one! Things can be extra overwhelming for children with autism. If they are having a harder day or if they are not ready to go out for a family event, try and reschedule if you can. This will be helpful for both you as the caregiver and your kiddo.
  • Look for local activities or programs while you have time off. So many places now adays offer great activities that are sensory friendly and amazing for kiddos who have an autism diagnosis. Autism Speaks has a special page where you can find local attractions and events  click the links to find events in your area!( Resource Guide and calendar of autism-friendly events to find activities in your local area).

Being with Family and Friends:

  • Have favorite or preferred items of your child with you. This is a great way to help calm your child and make them more comfortable.
  • Try to be mindful of decorations around you. If there are a lot of sounds or blinking lights this may be overwhelming for a child with autism. Ask friends or family to take them down or turn them off while you are there if possible.
  • Make sure there is a quiet space where your child can take a break if needed. This can be a bedroom or office. There is a lot of excitement during the holidays, and it is okay if some alone time is needed.
  • Make a photo album of people you may see. This can help prepare your child for who they will see and talk to.

Giving Gifts: Giving presents is so much fun, but the unwrapping and commotion can be a lot for some children.

  • Use Visual supports. Social stories and visual boards on what to expect during present giving can help prepare your child for this activity.
  • If your child talks about gifts, ask them to make a list with you about what they want.
  • Practice opening ahead of time.
  • Be flexible. If they don’t want to open gifts when everyone else is or if they want to do it in a quiet room that is perfectly fine.

Making New Traditions:

  • Incorporate special interests. Add favorite characters or colors to your decorations.
  • If decorations seem to bother your child, try putting them up little by little. Also involve your child as much as possible.
  • Check in with local autism organizations to see what fun events they are holding this year!

This time of year can be chaotic for everyone, but it is also such a great time to spend as a family. Try and prepare for all the chaos and excitement as much as you can with these helpful tips. Have a happy and healthy holiday season!