Holidays can be a wonderful time for children, full of excitement, fun and joy. However, those of us who have or work with children with ASD know that the "spirit of the season" can easily feel more like the "chaos and unpredictability of the season." Help your child or student more easily transition to winter break and the holidays with our practical, research-based 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 process and understand 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 calm and understanding. Make sure to highlight and specifically teach your child or student to pay particular 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 are necessary.
All children eagerly await the holidays and the excitement that comes with them. 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 (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, having checklists to let them know exactly what will take place within an activity is a great strategy. For example, below is a picture checklist to show a child what will happen when he gets to 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 waiting or unstructured times (waiting in the airport, traveling in the car or plane, or at an unfamiliar place). Choice boards give children a way to visually see all of the options available at a particular time and a sense of needed control in unknown 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 a child 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. Other examples include expectations around holiday meals and other traditions, spending the night with relatives, or getting together with friends. Remember that the more preparation and work ahead of time, the better the chances that a child will be prepared and able to manage the situation. Also remember to prep family and friends for ways they can support a child in these sometimes difficult situations.
Build In Breaks
Holidays can be wonderful, but they can be stressful, not only for children but for all family members. Make sure that certain routines (bedtime, meals) remain in place as much as possible, and make sure your child can take needed breaks. Connections for Autism wishes all educators and families a wonderful holiday season!