The holidays can be a crazy, hectic time of year for any family, but it seems magnified when you have kids on the spectrum, with special needs and challenges. How can you do that tightrope dance of making the season bright and memorable for everyone else, without sacrificing the peace and comfort of your child with autism? It will take some advance planning, but the time spent will be worth it.
One question that many parents ask is, “How do I find a gift that my child will really like?” When babies and toddlers prefer the wrappings to the gifts inside, we think it’s cute. It’s not so cute when our ten-year-old barely gives a glance at an expensive present before returning to “stimming” with the ribbons or tissue paper. This can be discouraging for parents and grandparents who want nothing more than to make this child happy. What to do?
One way to find the right gift is to put yourself in your child’s shoes. What does she like to do? What sparks his interest walking through the toy aisles of stores? What television shows capture his attention? Rather than finding a gift that most typical children of the same age would enjoy, and hoping that your child will like it, too, look for something that your child has shown you he likes. It might not even be a toy. If your child loves vacuum cleaners, maybe he would be thrilled with his very own small vacuum. (Make sure it is the make and model he prefers.) If he loves cooking shows on TV and cooks at home, consider giving cookware associated with his favorite celebrity chef. For older children who understand the concept of gift cards, a card for music or video games might be most welcome. For a younger child, ask their teacher what they play with most often at school. If you have a child who has a strong interest, play to it, not against it. Don’t let your gift giving be limited by your own embarrassment if your child prefers toys meant for much younger children. The holidays are not the time to try to teach her to be more age-appropriate; gifts should be what makes the recipient happy, not what is comfortable for the giver.
There are a lot of other parents on the internet who have been there, done that, and shared their experiences online.
Here are some of the ones I found:
Maria Mora, blogging SheKnows, posted “Holiday Tips from Parents of Children with Autism.” Her tips included:
COMMUNICATE with family and friends about your child’s needs, such as asking the host of a family gathering if there is a quiet place where your child might play when the crowds are too much.
PLAN for dietary and allergy needs, as well as food preferences.
SCHEDULE activities that play to your child’s strengths.
EMBRACE FLEXIBILITY as much as you can.
Get the details and more from Maria Mora at http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/977509/holiday-tips-from-parents-of-children-with-autism
Kirsty, blogging My Home Truths: Positive Special Needs Parenting, posted an article called “How to Survive the School Holidays as an Autism Parent.” Her advice included:
CREATE A HOLIDAY ROUTINE (especially if you’re staying home)
DEVELOP A SOCIAL STORY (if you’re heading off on holidays)
PLAN FOR SOME DOWN TIME (You will all need it.)
FIND WAYS TO SNATCH A LITTLE TIME FOR YOURSELF (You deserve it!)
STAY POSITIVE (You’ve got this!)
Read more from Kirsty at
Dyan Robson, blogging AndNextComesL, posted an article called, “26 Holiday Survival Tips for Autism Families,” which is chock full of good advice. It’s presented in ABC format (because she has a hyperlexic son who loves the alphabet.) Some of my favorites of her tips are:
A ASK for help when you need it.
D DECORATE GRADUALLY to avoid sensory overload
F FIGURE OUT your exit strategy or calm down plan
N NEVER feel pressured or obligated to maintain commitments if your child is overwhelmed
Y YIELD when things aren’t going well.
Z ZERO IN on what is most important during the holidays.
Check out the rest of Dyan Robson’s alphabet of tips at:
Author Lee A. Wilkerson, PhD, offers “Holiday Tips for Parents of Kids on the Spectrum” at BestPracticeAutism.com. His tips cover such issues as decorating & shopping, family routines & travel, and gifts & play time. Read all about it, as well as learning about Dr. Wilkerson’s books, at:
There are plenty of other ideas on the internet to help get through what can be a stressful time, but these will give you a head start. Remember to breathe, modify your expectations, and enjoy the little ways your family gives you joy every day of the year.
My wish for you and your family this holiday season is simple.
May your holidays be filled
with the people you love
and the time to appreciate them.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanza, Milad-Un-Nabi, Peaceful Solstice,
and a very Happy New Year to all!
“God bless us, every one.” (Tiny Tim, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)