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How to Help Your Family Understand Your Child with Autism During the Holidays

Visiting family during the holidays can sometimes be very hard for your child with autism, especially when some family members don’t understand ASD. However, a bit of explaining and preparation can help keep your holiday season the most wonderful time of the year. Here are some tips on how to help your family understand your child with autism during the holidays.

Explain autism to other family members, even the kids

Help your family members understand what to expect, as they may not know the best way to ask you questions. If there will be other children, be prepared to explain your child’s autism in kid-friendly way. Talk through the holiday traditions and consider your child’s needs and sensitivities. Some kids may fixate on certain decorations or want to open gifts early. Other children may not respond well to a surprise gift or may not react in an expected way. It may be better to come up with a wish list with your child and help family members prepare the gift in advance. In addition, your child may be particularly sensitive to hugs and kisses from unfamiliar people, even if they are family. Communication beforehand can help prevent any misunderstandings about holiday expectations.

Find out what food will be served

Ask your hosts about the menu well in advance of your family gathering. If you know the food will be difficult for your child with autism to eat for any reason, offer to bring a suitable dish, potluck-style. Or pack enough snacks so that your child feels comfortable eating familiar, favorite foods. Knowing the menu in advance can help you and your host get ahead of any unwanted surprises.

Talk to family about your child’s sensitivities

When attending a party, remember to let family members know that your child with autism may be sensitive to noises and lights. Christmas trees and holiday smells can cause mild to severe pain or discomfort. If the noises are impossible to control, a personal stereo with headphones set to a safe level for children may help drown out background noise and ease my discomfort.

Mention your child’s different abilities

Sometimes your child with autism may seem rude and abrupt, but it is only because they must try so hard to understand people and at the same time, make themselves understood.
Sometimes when they are touched unexpectedly, it might feel painful and make them want to run away. They might get easily frustrated, frightened, or confused. Ask family members to be patient, and try to set up a quiet, private place in advance with the host where your child can decompress.

Set expectations for the meal

If your child cannot sit at the meal table, let your family know that he or she is not misbehaving. Sitting in one place for even five minutes might be difficult for your child. He or she may feel antsy and overwhelmed by all the smells, sounds, and people. Tell your hosts not to hold up the meal–just be understanding of how he or she has to cope.

And last, but not least, don’t be afraid to say no

Finally, don’t forget to consider the needs of the whole family, including your own! Don’t feel obligated to say yes to every invitation if it’s not the right choice for your family. Before agreeing to holiday events, consider what the expectations will be for your child’s behavior. If your child is very active, will there be room for children to move around and be loud? If your child is sensitive to clothing changes, will formal dress be expected? Will your friends or extended family be understanding and tolerant to your child’s behavior? If your family does decide to go, don’t be afraid to know your child’s limitations, and leave early if needed.
If you feel overwhelmed and you need help, please contact us.
American Advocacy Group is on the front lines every day, making positive change happen for people diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome and a range of diagnoses across the continuum. As a leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and the premier provider of the support and services people want and need, we understand the system and know how to take action in regard to your best interests.
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