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Holiday survival tips for children with autism and special needs

As those with experience know, children with autism can require extra help during the holidays. The lack of routine, novel situations and unexpected guests can throw off their equilibrium.

Here are some suggestions that may help.

1. Allow the child to have as much of their routine as possible. A treasured stuffed animal by the child's side can go a long way towards helping him feel centered in the hectic holiday rush.  A beloved blankie can help a child who feels upset feel secure.

2. Compromise with clothes that look good, but feel good, too. Parents like their children to look good, but remember that sensory issues can cause a child discomfort, which can lead to a meltdown. Soft cottons, velours, satins are comfortable. Avoid tulle, nylon and netting.  Not all children with special needs have a problem with these, but if yours does, sacrifice fashion for peace of mind for you both.

3. Limit holiday parties and try to keep to a regular bedtime. No one is at his best if he is overtired. This is especially true for children with autism.

4. Have familiar foods available for the child, amid all the other holiday choices. If the child is on a special diet, plan ahead to make sure there will be food the child can eat.  That may sound simple, but sometimes in the bustle of preparations, it is easily overlooked.

5. If entertaining at home, help the child go through her toys and put away the most important ones.  These are toys no one else can use.  Another alternative is to set out toys in a common area that are okay to share. Respect that the child has certain toys he does not want to share.

6. Consider color-coding presents. Show the child which ones are his.  This way, he doesn't try to open up anyone else's presents. Avoid putting out the presents until just before opening.  This reduces temptation.

7.  Let the child help with decorations. Keep in mind that flashing lights and music can be difficult for a child with autism.

8. Find what the child enjoys and build upon it.  Start a new tradition.  Does he like a certain song?  Make it part of your celebration.

9. Try to avoid taking the child shopping during this time of year.  Crowds and noise can be a major trigger for kids with autism. If you must shop, stick to smaller stores away from the large metropolitan malls.

10. Consider reducing the amount of presents under the tree. Kids don't care as much as parents do about the number of gifts. For the child with autism, who may have a limited attention span, set him up for success.  Concentrate upon the fun of the gifts rather than the quantity.
   
Don't blame yourself or the child.  He isn't trying to be difficult, he really struggles with the holidays.  Plan for frequent breaks and make sure there is a "safe place" for the child to decompress if so needed. The holidays can be a magical time. With a bit of planning, the holidays can be memorable and successful for your child.

photo copyright Thijs Knapp. Used under cc.  Use of image does not indicate disability.

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