‘Tis the season to be jolly! And, let’s be honest, kind of stressed. The price of gifts, party prep and extra time with the in-laws can be hair-pulling for you, parents. The holidays can be hard on your kiddo with autism, too. There are lots of things that can unsettle little Ricky: changes in routine, flashy decorations and presents he can see but can’t yet touch. To have a more peaceful season, implement strategies that’ll help your sweetie cope with all the hoopla. Here’s what to do:
1. Put the day in writing: Your family’s schedule probably looks different during the holidays than it does regularly. To whittle stress and help Rachel adapt to the changes – and to reduce the likelihood of negative behaviour between transitions – create a schedule that shows her exactly what’s in store for the day. We like using Choiceworks, but you can also hand-write the sequence of the day’s events. Review the schedule frequently with Rachel throughout the day, crossing off what’s complete and talking about next steps.
2. Light up slowly: Decking out your abode with flashing lights and animated inflatable characters can be overwhelming for some kids with autism. If changes in the environment tend to trigger tantrums in Ricky, decorate in stages so he has time to adjust to the decor. Start by putting up, with his help, a couple of his favourite signs or trimmings. Praise Ricky for his participation and get excited about the cool new decorations. Every day thereafter, hang another few pieces until your home is finally tinseled up.
TIP: If lights and sounds are aversive to Ricky, choose more subdued decorations.
3. Write and read social stories: Anticipate what situations or events, such as big family dinners or waiting to open presents, may be challenging and stressful for Rachel during the holidays. Then put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – and draft stories about how she should behave and what to expect in those circumstances. She’ll be calmer and more confident when she understands the rules. Read the social stories together daily and act out the scenarios, so she knows what to do at the real event.
4. Draw up a contract: Do you dread shopping with Ricky because waiting in line at the malls makes him meltdown? Or is hosting family for dinner a headache because he acts up at the table? To help promote better behaviour – and thereby reduce holiday stress – use a behaviour contract. In writing, clearly state how he needs to act during a defined amount of time and what awesome reward he’ll get for meeting the targets. We swear by behaviour contracts: they help a lot of our clients stay calm and cool in situations that previously riled them up.
It’s also a good idea to have a calm down system in place to help your kiddo relax if and when she’s afflicted with holiday stress. Practice the chill-out steps while she’s calm, and carry a small visual with you at all times to remind her what to do when she’s tense.
Wishing you and yours a happy, stress-free holiday season!
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