Five ways to support individuals with ASD over the holidays
For parents of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the holiday season can seem a tad bit more challenging. From a change in the climate to the loss of structure and a familiar routine-- children with ASD have to deal with a lot. Both parents and children may have a hard time adjusting and adapting.
But there are ways to ease this transition and ensure that the holidays are a truly enjoyable and relaxed time for both parents and children. Here are few of our tips that you can use to help your child:
The advent of holidays is an exciting time for everyone - parents and children alike. For children, it involves a big transition from structured days to more carefree ones -- whether they are at home, summer camp or away for vacationing in another country.
1. Support your children
Commit to helping your child navigate social situations by making him/her feel safe. Feed them cues and clues, and recognize when he/she is beginning to feel overwhelmed and step in to give them some relief. Before you head into the hectic holiday hurdle race, make sure you give your child the support he/she needs.
2. Early preps for social gatherings
More often than not, dealing with ASD means that holiday socializing can be frightening. So, try to limber up to the idea of holiday by encouraging visits from friends or relatives, in the days leading up to the holidays. Let them also spend time alone and do things that they enjoy doing, without any interruptions, and slowly begin to warm up to being more social. Another way you can start preparing them for occasions is by giving them as much information as you can-- tell them who will be there, what will they be expected to do, and how long the gathering will last.
3. Easing into climatic changes
Each year, holiday season brings in one major challenge for children diagnosed with ASD: the transition to heavier clothes. The seasonal change to heavier clothes can present difficulties for those who have sensory sensitivities. Your child may prefer the lighter touch of summer clothing, so it will be helpful to begin by putting the summer clothes out of sight and bringing out the winter clothing. Now, help your child practice with heavy clothing-- a timer can help you both with the task of keeping the clothes on for increasing periods, depending on the level of resistance.
4. Help them stride
In a hurdles race, jumping over the hurdles takes a lot of energy, so what you do in between hurdles is very crucial, which is a gentle stride. In our scenario, the hurdles are social gatherings and the sudden change of atmosphere that a child has to face. Depending on your child’s social capacity and personality, determine a pace that works best for them. By all means, let them take as long as they need in between hurdles. Do not rush them into joining from one social activity right into the next. A good pace can actually protect them in the long run, as they will learn to better handle social situations.
5. Motivate and reward
The holiday season is almost always filled with social anxiety, sensory overload, and mental and emotional fatigue. Lots of people won’t understand why a child with ASD just can’t stay in a gathering till it ends, or maybe for that last one hour. Always make sure that you stay beside him/her and tell them that they’re doing good. And with each display of good behavior, reward them with a treat or a verbal boost such as ‘very good Lisa, I am proud of you’.
No matter how things turn out, learn to celebrate the fact that your child tried really hard. When you support your child with every action they take, by going out of their comfort zone, it gives them all the more reason to keep going forward.
Amidst all of the preparation and hustling, the holidays can get quite exhausting and frustrating as well. So, here is a list of quick practical pointers:
Choose a physical activity
Count to 10
Sit down and think
Drink some water
Think of a happy place
Draw a picture
Write about it
Continue to build on each of your child’s successes with positive reinforcements-- be it socializing, playing with new children, or even shifting their wardrobe. Contact Stepping Stones Centre to learn how you can better manage and improve your child’s behavior with the help of healthcare professionals and clinicians.