Holidays, like Christmas, are a special time of year for families. They can be special for you and your child with autism, too. It will take a little more planning and patience, but you can create happy holiday memories for your whole family. Applying proven techniques from the field of ABA therapy, the gold standard in autism care, is key.
Before we explore how ABA therapy can help, it’s important to understand how challenging holidays and any seasonal changes can be for children with autism. If your child has recently been diagnosed, you might not be aware that children with autism do best when they have routines to follow.
Any changes to their routines, any change to what they know, can be scary, because children with autism often have sensory and verbal communications deficits that make it difficult for them to quickly grasp and make sense of the unfamiliar. As a result, when their everyday routines are disrupted, as holidays tend to do, all the changes in their life (though temporary) can create a lot of anxiety and cause them to act out.
The tips below based in ABA therapy can help you reduce your child’s anxiety and create an environment where they can enjoy the holidays in their own wonderful way. Let’s take a look.
Tip #1 – Keep up your child’s daily routines as much as possible.
This echoes what we mentioned above, that children with autism find comfort in routines. Even if you’re traveling for the holidays, try your best to stick to your child’s routines at bedtime, in the mornings, at dinner, etc. It will provide your child with stability and predictability during the holiday hustle and bustle that, let’s face it, can create anxiety in all of us.
Tip #2 – Use visual supports to show your child what’s ahead.
Visual supports, like schedules and calendars, are ideal for showing children with autism what holiday plans lie ahead and when they will happen. If your child knows in advance what will happen and when, they won’t be surprised or caught off guard when their routines are disrupted. The more information you can share using pictures that represent the upcoming events the better. While holiday plans are not part of their routine, with visual supports, they become predictable, creating a sense of stability for children.
Tip #3 – Decorate in a sensitive way.
Children with autism can be affected by bright lights and loud noises, because of sensory deficits that are typical with the diagnosis. To help prepare them for the holiday fanfare inside and outside your home, try to acclimate them to the sensory experience. Start with smaller, controlled exposures to holiday-related sensations and gradually increase the intensity as your child becomes more comfortable. You may have to provide ear protection for them or eliminate some sensations altogether. When you know where that line of sensory comfort is for you child, you’ve got it made.
Tip #4 – Use social stories to help your child understand what behaviors are expected.
Social stories are personalized narratives that describe how to act and behave in a particular social situation. Many holiday events are social occasions either with extended family and friends. Others are out in public with crowds of people, like a parade or concert. The idea is to create social stories for your child, using pictures and words, that show them what they can expect during a specific social situation and how people act in that situation. Children with autism also often have social skill deficits and don’t know how to act in social situations. If you show them how through social stories, it will increase their understanding and reduce their anxiety. How to open and react to a gift makes a great social story for children with autism.
Tip #5 – Find a safe place for your child to escape to if they need a break.
Holiday activities can be overwhelming for children with autism. When they’re at home, they have their bedrooms to go to and get away from it all for a little while. If you’re planning activities outside your home, think ahead about places you’re going and if there is a safe place where they can go to for some quiet time if they need it. This is important, because it could mean the difference between a content child and one who starts acting out because it’s all too much for them.
Tip #6 – Praise and reward positive behaviors.
Positive reinforcement is critical for children with autism. It acknowledges their success in small and big things and rewards them for their efforts. Most importantly, it helps children repeat wanted behaviors. Positive reinforcement can be words of praise as well as tangible rewards, like their favorite cookie or a game on their laptop. Consistent positive reinforcement can contribute to increased engagement with your child and a more positive holiday experience for both your child and your family.
Tip #7 – Enroll your child in ABA therapy and sign up for Parent Training.
Experts in ABA therapy, like The Behavior Exchange, can help your child with autism improve in key developmental areas where they need help to reach their full potential. Helping children and their families successfully navigate the holidays is one of the many ways we bring hope and meaningful change into their lives. We’re also proud to have been the first ABA therapy provider in North Texas to have earned the highest accreditation possible as a Behavioral Health Center of Excellence®. We can help your child and family this holiday season and beyond.
To learn more about enrolling your child, reach out today. We also offer monthly Parent Training that brings tips like these to life, where you can talk and learn from licensed ABA therapists. Like ABA therapy, Parent Training is covered by most insurance!