What is your favorite part of the holidays? Perhaps you are drawn to the music and traditions of your faith. Perhaps you love the bustling crowds at the mall. Perhaps you enjoy making cookies for everyone in your neighborhood.
The child with autism has preferences as well. Of course, this is not news to the parents and siblings in their families. Children who are on the spectrum are often very oriented to routine. They also have strong preferences for certain activities and things. Many children with autism are drawn to the colorful lights. Many others love the movement of holiday decorations. Some have a favorite color (often red). Many love trains or things that dangle. Many children who are autistic love the repetition of a favored song CD or movie DVD. As you plan your holiday festivities this year, consider the favorite part of your child’s holiday.
As you create the holiday plan that is right for your family, remember that not everyday has to be crammed full of events. You do not have to attend the party for every group you even remotely belong to. The kids do not have to be in every program and performance.
Choose some things that are favorites for each member of the family. Decide a schedule that includes a reasonable amount of “favorites” for everyone. Each sibling and parent needs a special part of the holiday to look forward to. Make a schedule that will guide family fun without overloading or overwhelming. If everyone knows ahead of time what to expect, it will be less stressful as your family participates in the planned events.
Explain the Plan
Create a family calendar that is easily read. In other words, choose the item(s) that vary from the normal schedule. Using one or two words or a simple sticker or picture can be enough. If your child uses the PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) you may be able to use some of the pictures to add to your family activity calendar.
Keep as Much of the Normal Routine as Possible
Look for ways to maintain the regular routine. The more things that are the same, the more everyone will enjoy the holiday variations. As much as possible, leave meals and bedtime as they normally are. Everyone needs enough rest during this hectic time of year, and having predictable meal routines can be comforting when the schedule is anything but the norm.