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Celebrations with an autistic child

Sensory overstimulation can make a family party difficult.
Sensory overstimulation can make a family party difficult.

Spring provides lots of opportunities for celebrating. Winter is over and outside time quickly increases. Easter and other spring holidays give family and friends more together time. Swim parties will soon be here, too. For a child with an ASD, all the out of routine experiences can be overwhelming. Parties can turn from fun to disasters without some care. Parent Coaching for Autism gives some tips on celebrating successfully.

The most challenging part of any celebration for a child on the Autism spectrum is the sensory stimulation that it can create. The new foods, the lights, the sounds and the number of people can easily overwhelm and over stimulate your ASD child if you aren’t paying attention.

Noise levels - Many children benefit from wearing earplugs or headphones during big family gatherings that play music or have large crowds of people. They won’t block out all the noise but will dull the noise enough to help. Remember that it will be harder to get a child’s attention.

Escape spot- Determine a nice quiet space away from everyone for a possible get-away. Bring the child’s favorite snuggly, blanket or feel-good object for extra comfort. When you see signs of overstimulation don’t be afraid to say to relatives, “His body needs some quiet time” and bring him to the place of respite so he can relax and regroup. You or he will know when it is time to rejoin the group.

Huggers - People who hug can be very difficult to address, especially grandparents who do not often see grandchildren. Some children love the deep pressure and will spend many happy times receiving squeezes and maybe even cheek-pinches. Other children might flinch, back away or freak out or even hit, especially if startled by the touch.
Tteach your child how to politely let people know they don’t want to be touched. Examples include a non-verbal signal, such as outstretched hand in STOP signal mode or with words, such as, “No, I don’t want to be hugged, but I will shake your hand.” This allows your child to experience a feeling of control and hopefully success in communicating.

Clothing - Parents want their children to look their best for special occasions, but who can have fun and relax when they’re uncomfortable? The most important thing for your child to be wearing during any festivity is a smile. Be willing to make compromises and respect your child’s honesty when she says, “This itches too much.” Bring comfortable clothes to change into after photos are done.

Sunglasses. If a child is sensitive to bright lights you want to be prepared with a set of sunglasses. An outdoor party in bright sunshine may be too much for anyone’s eyes to adjust to and a strobe light on the dance floor could set your child over the edge. Always have a supply of cheap yet fun sunglasses on hand to shade your child’s eyes from glaring lights or the bright rays of sunlight.

B.Y.O.F. Bring Your own food - Parties provide a great opportunity to try new foods. Taking a bite of something new for the first time can be a delight or a nightmare. If you know your child isn’t going to eat what your host has served, bring an alternative food. Many people have food allergies and texture issues so it is not a big deal.

Scent Awareness- A child with a sensitive nose may not react well to different smells. Potpourri, air fresheners and scented candles can carry very intense odors that could be responsible for contributing to an outburst. If you detect certain odors that you believe might trigger negative behaviors consider making a request for the items to be removed from your immediate surroundings or bring something your child likes to smell, one that helps calm him.

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