Every year, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism staff release an article to help families and individuals on the autism spectrum navigate the holidays. This year COVID has presented some extraordinary challenges. We hope that next year our regular traditions can resume. In the meantime, we hope these suggestions and materials will help, will lessen the stress and anxiety created by the holiday season and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
- Traditional family events may not happen this year, may happen in a different way, and/or may happen with fewer people. We know that preparation is crucial for most individuals. At the same time, it is important to determine how much preparation a specific person may need. For example, if your son or daughter tends to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her. Here are some areas where your child may need preparation:
- Where and How Christmas Dinner Will Occur
- Who Will Be Present at Christmas this Year
- How Family Will Meet Virtually This Year
- Where the Family May or May Not Be Going This Year: In other words, what family traditions cannot happen.
- If Others Come Over, Rules about Wearing Masks, and Other Safety Precautions.
- Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the date of holiday events, by creating a social story or by creating a visual support that highlights concretely what will happen throughout the holidays and at a given event. At the end of this article are a few examples.
- We know that millions have been impacted by COVID. It may have compromised the health of various family members or some family members may not have survived. It may be helpful to put together a book with pictures of family members who can or cannot attend. Prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Always allow the child access to these photos and go through the photo album with your child while talking briefly about each family member.
- If celebrating in person, it may also be helpful to prepare family members and others for strategies to use to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents and to enhance participation. Help them understand that your son/daughter needs calm discussions or provide other suggestions that will facilitate a smoother holiday season. If your child becomes upset, it might also be helpful to coach others to remain calm and neutral to minimize behavioral outbursts.
- If you are traveling for the holidays, there may be new regulations and expectations, especially if you are flying. Prepare your child for mask wearing, and that movement may be restricted. Make sure you have the child’s favorite foods, books, or toys available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations. Also prepare them via social stories or other communication systems for any unexpected delays in travel.
- Since holidays may place extra stress on a child, this may not be the time to introduce them to new demands. Your son or daughter may need the comfort of their routines. For example, try to maintain sleep, meal, and other important routines.
Most important, we hope that you remain healthy and do not get unduly stressed. Your son/daughter may likely react to that stress. And most of all have a wonderful, safe, and healthy holiday season!
Christmas at Home This Year 2020 - Fill in Blanks
Blank Calendar for Dec. 2020 and Jan 2021 - includes holiday and special day icons
Pratt, C., (2020). Making the most of the holidays during covid for your family and your son/daughter on the autism spectrum. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/making-the-most-of-the-holidays-for-your-family-and-your-son-daughter.html