Holiday Planning for Kids with Autism

Preparing for the upcoming holidays

As we approach the holiday season, it is important to consider how these schedule changes will impact your child with Autism. Family gatherings, consecutive days off school, and visitors in your home are exciting, but may be stressful for individuals with Autism or that otherwise have a hard time processing loud sounds, dealing with changes in their daily schedule, or being in crowded areas. Here are some strategies to help you and your child get through the holidays successfully.

  1. A schedule of activities – This will provide predictability for your child with Autism. Let your child know what is planned for the day. Plan ahead by designating an area of your house (or the location you plan to visit) as a quiet space that your child can go if they need to take a break. Take familiar toys and activities with you when traveling away from the home and around Kansas City. Be sure to allow your child the opportunity to escape to this location BEFORE challenging behaviors occur. Ask your BCBA soon about setting up procedures in advance to help guide you in these situations so that it might be successful in preventing challenging behavior.
  2. Rule awareness – If there are certain rules your child needs to follow while in someone else’s home, let them know what these rules and expectations are ahead of time. This could include: sitting at the table quietly until the meal is over, staying in certain rooms, looking at the tree and lights instead of touching etc. You can practice following these rules ahead of time. If you know there may be expectations that are more challenging for your child, ask your BCBA to work on these skills during their ABA programming or with you and your child in the weeks leading up to the holiday.
  3. Social stories – can be a great way to prepare a child with Autism for the day, to let them know what they should and should not do at a guest’s house, or when they have company at their house. Ask your BCBA if social stories are appropriate for your child and if they can provide some.

For some kiddos it may be challenging to have school and social activities put on hold for multiple days or even weeks in a row. During times when daily activities are limited, children with Autism or other communication delays may have a hard time telling you that they are bored. This is also a time when self-stimulatory behaviors may start to occur more frequently.

In order to keep your kids engaged, think about using a visual schedule or written schedule to plan activities throughout the day. Ideas for activities include short and simple craft projects, making cookies, reading a book together, playing a short board game or puzzle, creating a sensory bin to enjoy etc. If these activities aren’t necessarily “preferred” activities, try placing a picture of one of their favorite activities on the schedule after each less preferred activity. Use a timer to limit the amount of time your child spends engaging in solo activities such as screen time, television, or any toy that your child plays with alone.  By providing your child with structured activities that have a clear start and ending, they will be able stay busy and have fun throughout a long day.

While it is great to have structure and routine, it’s also a great idea to get out and do something novel to add excitement and something new to your child’s day. Make a list of fun outings around Kansas City, and schedule one a day, or one every other day. Call ahead and ask when crowds are low. Ideas for outings may be going to the library and checking out books, going to the store and buying ingredients to make their favorite snack, sensory friendly movies, or visiting an indoor pool. To best prepare for the holiday season discuss these ideas and see if there are any other suggestions your BCBA might have about preparing for the upcoming holidays. If your child has considerable difficulty with long breaks in their ABA treatment or you anticipate this, bring this to your BCBA’s attention also. It may be best to think more thoroughly about what sort of break is ideal for your child and their treatment.

Taking the time to be proactive in your planning will pay off greatly when your child is able to enjoy a predictable holiday break with planned activities and planned down time. Feel free to ask your BCBA to help you create activities, visuals, social stories, and reinforcement systems to ensure a fun and successful break. HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ASPIRE BEHAVIORAL SOLUTIONS!!