Holiday Tips for Helping Children with Autism

These tips were written to help the families of children with Autism reduce holiday stress, but they are useful to all children.

Adapted from

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Keep a calendar or an ongoing verbal countdown until a special event occurs (such as going to grandma’s). Talk about the event ahead of time. Tell the child what to expect, what they might eat, and what it is okay (and not okay) to do.

2. Provide familiar comforts. During road trips, extra shopping, and non-routine events, bring comfort items such as favorite foods, quiet toys, or sensory items to calm.

3. Have the child help decorate. Changes in the appearance of the home may be disconcerting. If the child helps to decorate, however, they may feel more like a part of the change, rather than a victim to the change. Have the child help plan or put up decorations, choose menus, and decide on gifts and wrapping.

4. Prepare photos of people that will be seen. I did this for my own children when we were going to visit long-distance relatives. Review pictures of the people that the child will see. Talk about each person. Recall previous times the child has interacted with these people. It is nice if the child has a mini-photo album of all these photos.

5. Practice. Practice opening gifts by opening one book each evening in advance of the holiday. Practice waiting turns. Practice saying “thank you”.

6. Help less-familiar adults understand your child. Talk to relatives and family friends in advance about ways they can help your child feel more comfortable. Provide them with written information such as this letter. Tell them foods, sounds, and sights that your child might like and dislike.

7. Plan ways to help the child initiate conversation. This idea is my own… Many children with Autism have difficulties initiating conversation. The child may feel stressed or unsure when casual questions are asked of them. Or the child may be non-verbal and unable to communicate in a way that less-familiar adults can recognize. Give the child a photo album of things that they enjoy talking about: their room, their favorite toys, their favorite topics. Let the child use these pictures as a means to begin conversations. Non-verbal children can initiate by showing the pictures of their favorite items. Verbal children may feel less reserved if they know what they can talk about to their relatives.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Originally published 12/11/08 at If Only I Had Super Powers

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