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Preparing For the Holidays: Tips For Families With Children on the Spectrum

It is the most magical time of the year and notably the most stressful for many. If you are raising an autistic child then you have some added stress that others may not experience. Today I am sharing some simple tips in preparing for the holidays so that you and your child can enjoy the season.

The holiday season is upon us and with that comes lots of preparations for gift giving, gatherings, outings and other traditions that your family may enjoy.

If you are in the midst of raising a child with autism, then you know all to well that things sometimes do not go as planned, especially around the holidays.

There are some simple things that can be done to compose a plan in order to prepare for the holidays and create special memories with your family.

I am sharing some simple tips to remember during the holidays that can make all the difference in how you and your family enjoy the holidays.

Maintain a routine

preparing for the holidays
Keeping routines in preparation for the holidays

It is important to remember that you can still make the holidays special even with challenging situations.

The holidays is a wonderful time of year, but with all the wonder of the season comes lots of extra activities, later bed times and often sensory overload for those on the spectrum.

By making a few adjustments in order to prepare for the holidays can make the biggest impact on your child’s stress levels.

Part of preparing for the holidays includes trying to keep basic routines, wake up, meals, bath time and bedtime the same during the holiday from school.

If it is not possible to keep something on schedule, let your child know in advance that the schedule will be different for the day assuring them that it is just for the day.

Also allow for some downtime during the holidays, allowing them to take time to be somewhere quiet and calm.

This can aide in keeping them calm during the busy season.

Adjusting how you add decor

Preparing your holiday decorating

Change can be very difficult for children on the spectrum and that includes making decor changes in their spaces.

My son does not like it when I change things up in our home, so I try to do it slowly to give him time to adjust.

Simply doing the holiday decorating in small chunks, adding a few items at a time to let your child get used to the items before adding anything new.

Often if I try to add several new things at once he will destroy a room in a minute because the change has set him off.

In that case, we put it back together and wait for him to adjust to the change and then we move onto the next thing.

Every child is different and ultimately you know how to best approach your child with anything new.

Posting a visual schedule

Making your child aware of activities that you have planned to help them prepare for the holidays.

  • Writing out on a chalkboard/ dry erase board the activities that are planned for the month so they have a visual (using pictures to tell a story of the events if they are too young to read)
  • If your child is one who becomes anxious knowing too far in advance, write out a few days at a time
  • try not to over schedule activities, choose those that are most important to your family
  • give daily verbal reminders of activities and upcoming events

Sensory friendly activities

Plan activities that your family enjoys that your child can tolerate and enjoy as well.

Look for local sensory friendly activities, like bowling, movies and Santa visits if your child is up for that.

There are more and more sensory friendly activities than you may not be aware of. Go to local Facebook pages or google sensory friendly holiday activities and you will find what is available in your area.

In the event that nothing comes up on your search, ask your child’s school or contact your local Autism Society for information.

Holiday parties

Gatherings are a big part of the holiday season and are often difficult for children on the spectrum.

We used to try and take our son to holiday parities but generally they were too much for him to handle and we would leave early and a bit frustrated.

Holiday parties present situations where there are lots of unknowns.

The anxiety level of a child on the spectrum at a party can reach all time highs due to over stimulation, too much excitement and noise.

One option would be going to the gathering early before lots of people arrive and lots of activity begins.

Giving your child the opportunity to experience the magic of the holidays in a way that feels safe to them is so important.

A better option is to plan a small, intimate gathering in your home that you prepare your child for in advance.

If necessary explain to your guest ahead of time things that your child has a hard time with in order to prepare them for what may take place.

Being in your own home gives them the ability to have some control and remove themselves from unpleasant or overstimulating activities if needed.

This creates a more calm environment for everyone to enjoy the gathering.

Planning for time with your spouse

Scheduling time with your spouse is so important for all parents, but especially for those raising a child on the spectrum.

Have a family member or friend that your child knows well watch them so that you and your spouse can enjoy some holiday cheer alone.

Be sure your routine for the time you will be gone is clearly posted somewhere for whomever is watching your child to keep them on schedule.

Being realistic with your plan

Letting go of unrealistic visions for your holiday will help set you and your family up for a magical holiday season with just a little preparation.

You know your child best, how much sensory input they can tolerate – so make holiday preparations early in order to plan accordingly.

Be flexible, if what you have planned is not working you know what you need to do, and have a plan b.

Being able to spend intentional time with loved ones during the holidays does not have to look like anyone else’s, comparison has no place.

Creating your magical, less stressful holidays with friends and family can happen by adjusting your plans and being prepared.

Till next time



Sonya Burgess

Sonya is graduate of Guilford College and a preschool teacher who lives at the North Carolina coast with her husband of 25 years, their three children ages 19,18,12 and their rescue dog Goldie. Her youngest child was recently diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum and she has a heart for encouraging other special needs mamas. One of her favorite out door activities is hanging out at the beach with her family searching for sea glass. She also enjoys doing diy projects and decorating her home on a budget. Sonya blogs at encouraging women to create a beautiful, intentional life and home.

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