Handing Autism Challenges During the Holidays

December 10, 2018

Handing Autism Challenges During the Holidays

By Rachel Barcellona, SafeMinds Board Member, International Autism Community Advocate

The holidays are a lovely time for families everywhere, from holiday songs, family dinners, and opening presents galore. There are so many things to look forward to, no matter what holiday you celebrate. However, there are so many challenges that people with autism face when the holiday season comes up that make these rose-tinted times not so joyful. Instead of looking forward to that family get together, parents cringe with fear wondering how their son or daughter will make it through the night with all that loud noise, or if they’ll even eat the family dinner because texture issues get in the way.

Here are some things you can do to combat autism challenges during the holidays!

Sitting with your child or adult with autism

I always loved seeing my family on Christmas eve, but having a large Italian family often became too much for me to handle. Whenever I felt stressed out, I went to a quiet room and my mom often sat with me so I could calm down. Sitting with your child or adult with autism often helps them know that everything will be okay, but that should not be the only thing you should do to help them.

Help them interact with family

Every family is different, but in an Italian family it’s so hard to tell which uncle is which, who’s that cousin, who’s married to whom, etc. Especially if you’re a very young child. My mom and dad encouraged me to talk to my cousins, even though all I wanted to do was sit in the corner and read. I clearly remember my mom saying, “You can’t do that all your life. Books come and go, but family is forever.” Even though it may be a struggle to get a child with autism out in the open, it’s never too late to try. They will thank you one day for allowing them the opportunity of socialization. Remember, sometimes the best social skills groups don’t cost a dime!

Bring food for them

There will most likely be texture issues when it comes to food over the holidays. I know I had a lot of those when surrounded by weird Italian recipes. I mean, what five year-old wants to eat octopus? My parents learned from trial and error when it came to texture issues. I would only eat a certain type of soup and plain pasta. They let me eat what I wanted to, but after a while I got tired of the same food and got curious about new foods when I got older. This all happens gradually. A person with autism may eventually outgrow certain texture issues, but some of them may stay forever. If this is the case, slowly introduce new foods and see how they react. No two people have the same results, and the best thing to do is to be patient.

Tone down those holiday lights!

Sensory issues can be a big deal for us, and during the holidays people love to go all out with their decorations. These decorations can often be loud or very bright. This may be problematic for a person with autism, so please consider their needs and what sensory issues they have before you put up those lights! Flashing lights can cause seizures in some people with epilepsy, and huge inflatable Christmas decorations can sometimes be scary for very young children with autism. Consider keeping the festivities in and around the house minimal and sensory friendly. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun at the same time. No matter neurotypical or with autism, we all have fun during the holidays!

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