With most neurodiverse children, like Autistic children, the Christmas season can be very overwhelming. This overwhelm can be hard for any neurotypical child or adult to understand. There are many different ways during the holidays to make sure the Autistic child in your family is not completely left out and ignored due to their differences.
Three things that can be very hard for those on the Autism spectrum are thrown at them all at once during the holidays. Often making events, family get-togethers, and outings very hard to handle. Those three things include sensory overload, changes in routine, and social obligations. In an effort to help neurotypical family members understand their neurodiverse members and help them through the holidays here are some wonderful tips.
The hardest thing for family members can be finding that their expectations have not been met. An Autistic child may find sitting at the table with everyone to be too overwhelming, they may not like grandma’s stuffing, they may even say so in a way that is very blunt if they are verbal. Do not take things personally and be understanding.
Do not force affection and interaction.
Let the Autistic child in your family initiate any affection. Do not force hugs, kisses or even physical touch. It is okay to try to initiate interaction really it is nice to TRY to interact rather than just leaving the Autistic child alone and ignored. However, do not force them to respond. Get down to the child’s level and in their world. Don’t avoid them. It’s okay to ask what they’re doing, what they’re interested in, or how they are feeling. Do not feel bad or distraught if you do not get a response.
Do not expect child to sit at the dinner table.
Crowds can be too much sensory input for many Autistic kids. The noise of everyone talking, the noise of plates, utensils, chewing, it can all be a lot for them to process. Do not expect the child to sit at the table. You can try and see if it is okay but do not force it. Let them leave if they feel they need to.
Go at the child’s pace and comfort level.
The most important point to remember no matter the situations is to let the child go at their own pace. Do not force anything.
Always love and respect them for who they are.
Always love and respect the Autistic child for who they are. Remember differences are not bad and even if you do not understand let them do and be who they are.
Ask the child’s parent how to make it a good experience for them.
It can be so important if a family is coming to your house for the holidays and they have an Autistic child to ask the child’s parents how you can make it a good experience for them. Mom and Dad understand the child better than anyone else and often times they are their child’s advocate. Let them give you advice for a welcoming environment and listen to what they say.
How to Prepare Your Child
Mitigate Sensory Issues
Avoid sensory challenges
As their parent you understand what sensory challenges your child has. There may be things that come up new and sensory challenges can definitely change overtime but if there’s something that will set off your child or create sensory overload do what you can to mute or avoid all together that sensory input.
Give sensory alternatives
Bring toys, fidgets, or other accessories that may give your child a good sensory input alternative. Something they like they can distract themselves with from the overwhelming sensory input that may be around.
Have an escape if necessary
Have some place in the home your child can go that is away from the crowd. Somewhere that they can lounge, relax, perhaps have a toy, fidget, or tablet they can play with.
Maintain Routines and Order
Pick and choose changes your child might handle better than others.
Routine changes for Autistic children can be hard. Many however are able to work through small routine changes over larger changes. Pick and choose what change may be acceptable and what changes are not.
Prepare for Social Situations
Do social stories with your child.
Many kids respond well to explanations of what to expect. Social stories are a wonderful way to help your child know what they should be expecting over specific events.
Bring the necessities that will help your child through the overwhelm. This can be a toy, comfort item like a blanket, or for my child it is often their tablet.
Explain your child’s needs
Explain to others what your child needs and advocate for their comfort. It can understandably be hard to not feel any judgment from others but remember you are and should be doing what is best for your child no matter what others think or feel.