Holidays can be a wonderful time for children and families, often full of excitement and fun. However, for children on the autism spectrum, the "spirit of the season" can feel more like "chaos and unpredictability." Help your child or student more easily transition to holiday breaks with our practical solutions for holiday coping and management.
Schedules and Social Narratives
Children with ASD often have difficulty processing auditory (or spoken) information. Additionally, they often thrive on routines and have difficulty when schedules are different. Holidays are naturally filled with disruptions to routines, so even positive changes or activities can feel overwhelming. Daily visual schedules allow a child to better anticipate what is going to happen on a given day. During the holidays, a visual schedule can become a child's anchor, providing a sense of understanding about the events to come. Make sure to highlight and specifically teach your child or students to pay attention to a change on the schedule. For students who like routines, being able to identify an upcoming change through a special symbol or word is important. Use social narratives and practice incorporating positive changes into a child's day to teach a student to better accept when changes do happen.
Most children eagerly await the holidays and the excitement that comes with them. But that excitement can also lead to anxiety for children with ASD who often have difficulty understanding the passage of time. Use weekly or monthly calendars to help your child anticipate upcoming activities and plans (no school, travel, get-togethers, etc.). The visual support of a calendar lets your child know exactly when special events and changes are coming and allows them a bit more peace of mind to enjoy each day of the season. A child can mark off each day to more clearly see the passage of time if needed.
Checklists and Choice Boards
As children prepare for non-routine activities like those that happen around the holidays, checklists are a great strategy for letting them know exactly what will take place within an activity. For example, below is a picture checklist that shows what will happen at the airport. Checklists give important information and details about expectations. Prepare a child by reviewing the checklist before the activity takes place. You can also use choice boards during periods of waiting or unstructured times (waiting in the airport, traveling in the car or plane, or at an unfamiliar place). Choice boards provide a way to visually see all of the options available at a particular time and provide a sense of needed control in unfamiliar situations.
Teaching Social Rules
Children with ASD often need direct instruction or specific teaching around social rules, particularly those around the holidays. Be sure to teach these rules using visual supports such as social narratives, scripts and visual reminders. Below are examples of ways to show how to appropriately respond when given a present at the holidays. As a teacher or a parent, think of other scenarios that can be socially difficult for your child to navigate. Other examples may involve expectations around holiday meals and other traditions, spending the night with relatives, or getting together with friends. Remember that the more preparation you can do ahead of time, the better equipped a child will be able to manage the situation. Also remember to prep family members and friends with ways that they can support a child in these sometimes difficult social situations.
Build in Breaks
Holidays can be stressful time, not only for children, but for other family members as well. Take steps to ensure that certain routines (bedtime, meals) remain in pace as much as possible, and make sure your child knows where and when she can take a much needed break from all the excitement. Connections for Autism wishes all educators and families a wonderful holiday season!