Location SpotlightThe holidays are a time for festive excursions, thoughtful gifts, and celebrations with family and friends. While many children look forward to this time, it can be quite stressful for children on the spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech delays, and nonverbal communication.

Autism affects 1 in 44 children in the United States, and the exact symptoms and their severity can vary from child to child. Autistic children may have social anxiety and sensory overload, making the holidays a difficult time for some children. A child with autism may be easily overwhelmed by large crowds, new environments, loud noises, and changes in routine; all of which accompany the typical holiday season.

However, with a little bit of extra planning, you can make the holiday season more enjoyable for the whole family. That's why we've listed five tips to help you minimize stress for your child during holiday gatherings this season.

  1. 1. Make A Plan

    The holidays are a hectic time for everyone, but for parents of autistic children, the added stress of holiday gatherings can be overwhelming. Any change in routine can be difficult for autistic children, and large gatherings with unfamiliar people can be particularly challenging. To help minimize stress for your autistic child during the holidays, it is important to make a plan. Familiarize your child with the concept of a holiday gathering by talking about it ahead of time. Explain who will be there and what to expect. If possible, visit the location before the event so your child can get comfortable with the surroundings. And finally, make sure to have a quiet place where your child can go to take a break if needed. This way, you can help minimize stress for your child as they will know what is to come.

  2. 2. Give Them A Break

    With all the new people, noises, and activities, holiday gatherings can be overwhelming for autistic children. Make sure you give your child a break from the festivities when necessary. If you can, find a quiet room where they can go to take a break from the stimulation. This will allow them to recharge for a bit and hopefully enjoy participating in the festivities when they return. And don't forget to take some time for yourself as well, as accommodating a child on the spectrum can be stressful for parents as well. By creating a safe space to decompress, both you and your child can feel comfortable rejoining the celebration.

  3. 3. Keep Things Familiar

    Changes in routine and increased social interaction can be challenging for children on the spectrum. One of the best things you can do for your autistic child is to keep things as familiar as possible. Instead of heading to a friend's house for your holiday gathering, you could try hosting the celebration at your home. This can offer your child a familiar environment that makes them feel comfortable. They can also use their room as their safe space to retreat to if they feel overstimulated. If you decide to head out somewhere for the holiday, be sure to bring along familiar items. Your child will appreciate having their favorite toy or blanket around for some added comfort. Keeping things familiar will keep the holiday stress free for your child.

  4. 4. Communicate

    Before you begin any festivities, be sure to communicate with other family members and friends about your child's autism. Let everyone who will be present know what your child's triggers are and what sort of things they may need to feel comfortable. Some ways you could start these conversations are by sending an email or text ahead of time, or even talking about it when you see people in person. This will help reduce the chances of someone accidentally doing something that could upset your child, help guests to understand your child's needs, and give them insight on how to best interact with them. In addition, be sure to talk with your child about the event beforehand so they know what to expect. By communicating with others and preparing your child, you can ensure that your child has a stress-free holiday season.

  5. 5. Check With Your Pediatrician

    Before you make your holiday plans, you should feel free to have a conversation with your pediatrician to get their input on how to ensure events goes smoothly. This is especially important if your child takes medication, as you'll want to be sure that they are on the right dosage and that there will be no interactions with anything they may eat or drink throughout the day.

    While your child's doctor is often sought for sickness or health concerns, they can also be a trusted resource for behavioral concerns and guide you in creating a plan for the holiday. Your pediatrician can advise you on how to best accommodate your child's needs and help you create a plan that will work for your family. This conversation can also help put your mind at ease about the holiday season, as they can offer reassurance and support.

The holidays can be a difficult time for autistic children, but with some planning and preparation, they can be enjoyable for everyone involved. At Capital Area Pediatrics, our providers are experienced in helping parents care for children on the spectrum and would be happy to answer any questions you may have. We provide a variety of autism care services like early developmental screenings and consults, care coordination, and ongoing support with follow-up visits related to their final diagnosis. Schedule an appointment with Capital Area Pediatrics today to receive compassionate care for your family all year long.