Holiday Stress: How to Help Your Autistic Child Cope

The holiday season is often called the most wonderful time of the year, yet for kids with autism and their families, they can be filled with stress, anxiety, and fear. As a parent, you want nothing more than to ease the frustration and make the season a joyous one for your child. Fortunately, there are a few tactics you can use to make this holiday season go more smoothly for your whole family.

Avoid Massive, Abrupt Changes

Kids with autism thrive on routine, so sweeping changes to their environment can be upsetting. Instead of choosing a single day and swapping out all your ordinary decorations for your holiday décor, try making a few changes at a time. Gradually introducing items to the environment and even allowing your child to participate in decorating can ease the distress caused by too many changes at once.

Talk About What to Expect

If you’ll be hosting a family meal or get-together this holiday season, talk about what will happen with your child before the events take place. You can draw pictures together to help your child prepare for something new and understand what will happen.

If Feasible, Host Holiday Gatherings at Your Home

While it’s not always possible, hosting events and family get-togethers at your home can sometimes ease the distress of the holiday season overall for kids on the autism spectrum. Of course, there are still changes in the routine to cope with, but being surrounded by their own belongings and the comforts of home can help many kids stay calm and relaxed. Plus, when you’re at home, your child can always escape the activities for some alone time in their bedroom.
If you have several activities planned away from home, try to plan for one relaxing evening at home each week. A break from the hustle and bustle can be just what your whole family needs to decompress during the busy holiday season.

Conduct a Trial Run

Another technique that can reduce the stress associated with larger family gatherings is to practice a dry-run. Set the table as you will the day of a holiday meal, for instance, and have your child help with the trial preparations. Sit down together and talk about who will be there, what you’ll eat, and other expectations.

Plan Calming Distractions

If there are certain things that you child doesn’t typically cope with well, you can plan some activities that will serve as a distraction and remove your child from the situations that cause the most distress. For instance, some children with autism become distressed when exposed to loud noises, so planning an alternate activity during that time can avoid a crisis.
If your family gathers around the TV and watches a football game with rambunctious chatter and enthusiasm, plan an activity for a few of the kids that can take place in another, quieter room, such as an art project. Using this approach, your child won’t feel left out of activities and won’t be exposed to over-stimulating situations.
The holiday season is a busy one, and the added activity alone can cause some children with autism to experience added stress and anxiety. When your child is frustrated and upset, you want nothing more than to help them feel relaxed and in control. By taking some time to prepare your child for upcoming events, sticking to typical routines as much as possible, and allowing time and space for decompression, you can help to make this holiday season enjoyable for every member of your family.