Tips for a Festive Holiday with Autism

TURLOCK, CA – Dec 08, 2015 – The coming holiday season is a joyful time of year that brings together families and friends. However, it can also be quite stressful – especially for those who have a child with autism. With that in mind, FirstPath Autism is offering up tips to help handle everything from holiday party meltdowns to stress that can arise from schedule changes and holiday travels. While compiled for those with an autistic child in their lives, many of the tips work just as well for all families.


Prepare for changes in home and school routines.

The holidays mean that usual routines shift, and that causes disruption for everyone, including a child. Much as children may look forward to the season of celebrations, they may not understand that it involves trade-offs too. For example, having a holiday pageant at school may mean that their favorite art class is cancelled for the day. Be sure to discuss these changes with a child ahead of time, as they may not infer that the pageant means that art class won’t happen as usual.   

Assess sugar impact and decide what’s reasonable.

The holidays often mean different foods and lots of seasonal treats. Find a balance between prudence and fun. Unless food allergies or confirmed intolerances are involved, consider allowing children space to eat some special-occasion treats. Popcorn, cinnamon-baked apples, and trail mix are perennial winter favorites for kids who need to avoid certain food products or additives.

Be mindful of sensory issues.

The holidays mean plenty of flashing lights, decorations, and music. Festive celebration can be challenging for individuals with autism and sensory processing disorder. Consider having children help in the process of selecting decorations for the house or with decorating and preparing.

Ease into traveling and change.

If travel is necessary in order to see family and friends, prepare children for what the experience will be like. To help ease a child into the trip, bring along any special foods needed and a favorite object. If flying, check with TSA regarding any rules that may apply and consider reaching out to the airline in advance. Let them know a child with autism will be be traveling and include any special information that might be helpful.

If the traditions don’t fit, make new ones.

Most of us start thinking in terms of tradition when the holidays approach. Given this, it’s easy to get caught up in how things are “supposed” to be. Holidays can include baking cookies, making gingerbread houses, and/or gathering with families and friends. But what if a child with autism child refuses to bake, is terrified of carollers, or wants to go to bed early? In this time of joy and closeness, go easy by letting go of comparisonsshoulds,and “What will the extended family think?” If the traditions don’t fit, make new ones and most of all, have fun!


Meltdown Prevention 101

An initial recommendation is to try to prevent a meltdown prior to its inception. Remember that behavior is learned, and that what one models during calm moments will influence what happens during stressful ones.  

Take time to teach children appropriate self-management strategies, and they will have a much better chance of maintaining their emotional control in difficult situations.  

For example:  

• Remind a child of the appropriate behavior and associated reward
• Employ social stories and role-playing exercises to educate about appropriate behavior
• Prompt the identification and verbal expression of feeling states
• Review deep breathing techniques
• Use adaptive equipment to provide calming pressure or lessen the experience of sensory overload  

One of the most difficult elements of a public meltdown is… the public. Even at a party where the guests know and love a child, it’s still stressful to manage a meltdown. That said, this potential frustration can be turned around. If concerned about communicating with bystanders, try talking to friends and family members ahead of time about what to expect should a child lose control.  

Consider carrying cards to hand to strangers if it helps to explain the situation. But if surrounded by close friends and family, it may be easier to simply plan ahead and ask for needs (be it space or support) in advance.  

Finally, after a meltdown ends, make sure to take time to recuperate before re-entering the party. 

For more guideance on this topic, download FirstPath Autism’s, 10 Tips for Managing a Meltdown, with specific guidance from Amalie D. Holly, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst on the FirstPath Autism team

About FirstPath Autism: 

FirstPath Autism is an organization dedicated to the education, training, and awareness of evidence-based autism treatment developed by the Founder, Romina Kiryakous at the Genesis Behavior Center in Turlock, CA. The treatment practiced at Genesis is based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the most widely covered treatment for autism by insurance companies. In 2015, Kiryakous developed FirstPath Autism, a personalized online education, support, and training program dedicated to the parents and caregivers of children with autism. The goal of FirstPath Autism is to offer an autism lifeline to parents and to help care givers better serve children with autism.

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