The several weeks ahead are approaching a season most people look forward to and stress over at the same time. Parents of autistic children know the mixed feelings and stress that can come with family gatherings such as Thanksgiving or Christmas parties. The change of routine added social pressure and increase in sensory input can all take quite the toll on a child with autism. However, there are plenty of simple steps to take that can prevent meltdowns and allow for the whole family to have an enjoyable time.
One huge factor of how an autistic child will fare during a gathering is the location. If you are able to host a gathering, you will eliminate a lot of the challenges you would face if you were guests at another home. Your child will have a quiet, familiar place to retreat to if he or she feels overwhelmed. Additionally, you will be able to make sure their favorite toys and activities are still accessible.
The challenges that will still remain regardless of location involve social interactions and overall noise level. Be sure to prepare your friends or relatives about your child’s particular social challenges. Those “obligatory” hugs or kisses should be avoided along with any pressure to talk during dinner. You should also specifically warn your friends or relatives about sensitive topics or criticisms to avoid with your child.
If you do end up visiting another house for a gathering, be prepared for additional steps to help your visit go smoothly. If your relatives or friends have different house rules than yours, be sure to ask in advance and explain them in detail to your child. Ask your hosts to let you know what to expect from the evening. You don’t have to ask them to tailor everything to be suitable to your child’s needs, but rather make sure there will be activities he or she will be able to enjoy, without skipping out on everyone else’s favorite activities as well.
Ask your hosts to have a quiet space available if your child does need to take time away to avoid anxiety or sensory overload. Bring whatever activities and cheap toys with you that you can. Grabbing a bunch of toys from the dollar store and having them available is another great way to help your child distract themselves from the additional commotion that may cause them anxiety as well.
In addition to these steps, you can take to avoid meltdowns over the holidays, keep in mind you will also need to prepare your friends and relatives that behavior they may not be used to might happen. Extra patience and understanding will be the keys to making your holiday celebrations a fun time for everyone.
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