Ornament on a Christmas tree.

The holidays can tend to be a bit stressful for all of us. With the hustling around, family engagements, and crowded stores, it’s a lot to manage. If you’re a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, the holiday season can present a whole separate set of challenges. Whether this is all new to you, or you’re searching for new strategies to try, our team here at Blossom Children’s Center is happy to share our top four holiday tips to help lessen the stress and anxiety the season may bring.

  1. Be mindful of holiday sights and sounds
  2. Anticipate the holiday crowds
  3. Plan and prepare for events, gatherings, and travel
  4. Continue to implement strategies from your applied behavioral analysis sessions

While it’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of the holidays, families need to keep in mind that even the little things can be overstimulating for a child with autism. Easing into the season and making small changes over time can help make this portion of the year more enjoyable for the entire family.

Decorated Christmas Tree

Holiday Decoration Mindfulness

One of the joys for many people is the festive sights and sounds of the season. So many of us look forward to the carols and stores with holiday tunes, or the twinkling of lights and decorated windows around town. But for children with autism, the over-stimulation tends to cause more stress and anxiety. The sudden changes become too overwhelming to process, and the festive decorations have now become worrisome triggers. If your child has difficulty adjusting during this time of year, know that you aren’t alone. The challenges you may encounter are far from rare. Your family’s ABA clinic can provide many helpful suggestions and solutions to help make the changes as smooth as possible.

If you’re a decorating kind of family, don’t feel you need to stop this wonderful tradition. There are several ways to help your child ease into it. Start slow and early, allowing yourself plenty of time to gradually decorate your home. Choose a particular area of your home to begin, keeping the lines of communication open at all times. As you may recall from your child’s applied behavioral analysis sessions, introducing, discussing, and repeating new skills and routines for your child is very beneficial. Some of our families have had great success with:

  • Keeping a photo album of your decorated home and bringing it out each year before you begin decorating
  • Adding daily decorating events to your family schedule or calendar. If you have not yet started one, your child’s ABA clinic will have many fantastic ideas and examples to help you start a visual calendar to help your child’s structured routines
  • Encourage your child to participate in the decorating process. Familiarizing him and creating a “job” to assist with the various decorations and changes will help lessen his anxiety
  • If you know your child has a sensory sensitivity to blinking lights, jingle bells, musical or moving items, make changes accordingly
    • Choose not to use décor that may be a trigger
    • Use the décor in another area of the home
    • Spend time introducing the décor to your child, allow him to play with, handle, or observe the decoration in advance and gradually progress according to his acceptance

Anticipate Holiday Crowds

Children with autism thrive on structured routines and familiar environments. During this time of year, you’re bound to encounter crowds, whether you’re gift shopping or running to the grocery store.

  • When possible, try to stick to your regular shopping and errand routines, avoiding a disruption in your child’s structured schedule
  • If outings or events are necessary, try to plan around days and times that may be less busy, if at all possible
  • Talk with your child about the additional people and traffic you may encounter during the holidays to help ease anxiety
  • Try to avoid locations that may have sights and sounds that will over-stimulate your child
  • Watch for signs of anxiety or over-stimulation. Have a quiet place in mind in case it’s needed
  • Implement strategies you’ve learned from your time at your ABA clinic when tensions arise, or undesirable behaviors emerge. Using positive reinforcements can help deescalate many situations

Plan and Prepare for Holiday Events, Travel, and Gatherings

If your family tends to travel, attend holiday events or parties, you are likely working outside your child’s comfort zone. Preparing him in advance will help ease the stress and anxiety of the changes in the routine, environment, and social engagements.

  • Sessions will be invaluable in these situations. Continue to use positive reinforcements to encourage wanted behaviors
  • Utilize your family calendar to prepare him for upcoming activities, gatherings, and travel plans
  • Continue to have discussions about the upcoming events.
    Discuss all aspects, including:
    • Who will be attending?
    • Where will the event be?
    • What will the environment be like?
    • Are there sights and sounds to prepare for in advance?
    • How will this affect his regular schedule and routine for the day?
  • Use visuals whenever possible. Sharing images, books, or past
    photographs can help prepare him for travels or reuniting with family and friends he has not seen in some time
  • Try a few dry runs of the event or simulate the trip. Role-playing, as you’ve likely learned or observed during ABA clinic sessions,can help lessen the fears and
    anxieties in these situations. The more preparation you provide, the easier it will be to adjust or cope as needed
  • When traveling, involve your child in the packing process, so he knows all his usual necessities will be going with him. Be sure to pack favorite toys, snacks, and soothers as well
  • When you reach your destination, spend time getting him settled and acquainted with the environment. Designate a room or area he can visit if he needs time to himself. If he hasn’t practiced or learned self-coping skills during his applied behavioral analysis sessions, talk with his team and ask for help or advice to prepare for the trip

Continue to Use Applied Behavior Analysis Techniques

As you’ve noticed, ABA clinic strategies are useful in every situation you will encounter this season. By continuing these strategies throughout the holidays, you’ll encourage him to use his newly learned skills and replacement behaviors. Applied behavioral analysis approaches will help ease the changes throughout the holidays and help provide you with the necessary tools to minimize behavioral issues, encourage social interactions, and strengthen communication skills.

For more tips and resources, we’d love for you to visit our blog for weekly updates. Our ABA Clinic is here to support your family in any way we can. We wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season!

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