The holiday season is here and amid all the fun and excitement can be some challenges for families with children on the autism spectrum.  Having some strategies in place to can go a long way toward making the holidays more merry for the whole family.

Challenge 1) Family Everywhere! : During the holidays, getting together with extended family can be a lot of fun but it can be stressful for kids to have to engage with so many unfamiliar people.  
  • Show your child pictures of the people they are going to see and go over the names with them. You can also show them pictures of houses they are going to visit. 
  • Put the pictures into a book or 'facetime' over the phone with relatives before they arrive at your house or you go to theirs.  
  • Depending on the skill level of your child, it may be helpful to practice a greeting that is appropriate like a high five or handshake.  Generally, I don't tell kids to hug or kiss someone they don't know!

Challenge 2)  Food Craziness!: A fun, but sometimes unfortunate facet of the holidays is all the foods like candy, chocolate, and cookies available.  Limiting their children's access to the dizzying array of unhealthy options can be difficult for all parents, but families with kids with ASD may face some particular challenges when their kids have dietary restrictions or engage in tantrum behaviors when denied preferred foods. 
  • Let your child know how many of something is allowed before he starts. If he is allowed two cookies, make sure that you say it and he repeats it.  Use a visual if needed.  You don't need fancy pictures for this, draw it out on a piece of paper.
  • After the amount you allowed is done, redirect your child to another activity.  Help them find something to do.  Frequently, when people are standing around eating and talking, children will snack because everyone else is! 
  • Make sure your child has eaten a healthy snack or meal before you take him or her to places with lots of appetizers and candy available.  It's helpful to keep these as close to the usual schedule as possible.
Challenge 3) Travelling Fears!: Going on a plane trip or a long car ride to see family can be hard for kiddos who have a hard time sitting still or who have never been on a plane before.  Here are a few strategies to try before you set foot in the airport.
  • Write a social story about the trip or download one from the internet and edit it to be more specific to your child.  Keep it simple but do include what will probably happen and what the child should do when different things happen.  You can use any combination of words and pictures that is most appropriate for your child's skill level.
  • Prepare a small bag of activities for your child to use during the trip.  However, keep most snacks and activities with you so you can give them to the child over the course of the whole trip to avoid your child getting satiated on toys, games or snacks.

Happy holidays to all!