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The Autism Mom’s Guide to a Stress-Free Holiday Season

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Christmas is right around the corner, and before you know it holiday music will be airing shortly after Halloween— shortly, as in immediately following Halloween. 

How do you prepare your special needs child for the holiday season?

Here are some tricks, tips, and strategies you can implement to prevent meltdowns (or at least try to minimize the stress for both yourself and your child with Autism):

Preparing Your Child For the Upcoming Holiday Season

Around October, most stores are preparing for the holiday season. While it may be annoying for some consumers to see signs of the quickly approaching hustle and bustle season, I personally love Christmas. It’s also a great time to start preparing your child and reminding them that thanksgiving and Christmas are coming.

If you’re out with your child, you can discuss the decorations, and what it symbolizes. 

I love using books and picture schedules to help prepare our children for the holiday season.

My kids are a wee bit older now, so they’ve been through plenty of holiday seasons before. However, as it’ll upset their regular rhythms and routines— with half days due to conference the week of Thanksgiving, and a two-week winter break, I like them to know what to expect. 

Visuals are great for our kids— and I’ll usually write down the two big holidays in November and December down on our calendar. By mid-November, I usually have an idea of what events and activities to we’ll participate in this year so I fill those in as well. This is even helpful year round, but especially useful during the holiday and summer break season. 

Utilize the calendar you’ve created.

A the beginning of each week, remind them of the upcoming activity of the event. There’s a lot of events around this time of year, and while you don’t have to participate in all or any of them (link to discerning events to participate in), it’ll ease your child’s anxiety level if they know what to expect, and exactly when… 5 more days until ____, 3 more days until _____, and 1 more day until _____.

Our middle daughter is quite anxious, and it helps her to have the countdown every day. It may be exhausting as the parent to have to keep reminding them to ease their anxiety, but take heart, it’ll help prepare them better once that day actually arrives. 

Preparing for guests in the house:

Once we have things written down on our calendar, we do a countdown for Thanksgiving. Since our family hosts Thanksgiving every year, it’s especially important that our children are prepared for guests in our home.

It can cause your child to be anxious to know that there’s going to be a lot of people in your home, so it’s important to have a plan in place to ease their anxiety. Usually, we want them to get some of their energy out, so my husband or my brother will come over earlier in the day and they’ll bike over to to the neighborhood playground. 

They’ll need a place to decompress. We keep all the kids out of Jacob’s room— it’s a place for him to escape at any time if he needs to. Or our bedroom is another option for him as well. Have some of their favorite toys in there.

Simplifying Your Holidays:

We don’t participate in every activity that we come across during the holiday season. Now that our children are older we’re better able to discern what works best for our family, and what traditions to keep (links to traditions post), and what we can say no to.

We only say yes to activities that all the kids would enjoy, or we at least have a backup plan for. One of the perks of living in a smallish town is having a local Christmas parade, and by local I mean— it’s within walking distance of our home. If Jacob gets overwhelmed one of us can easily walk him home, although we still try to have our mini-van parked nearby just in case he needs a quick escape and the weather isn’t cooperating. 

One of our family favorites is the lights at Wild Waves. Our son (in particular) loves going on the rides, and the amusement park is a big enough space for him to roam around and go on rides to his hearts content. We always make it a point to at least do that. 

You may not be able to say yes to every party or function, and it’s absolutely okay.

One tradition we go, love, is our annual Friendsgiving/Friendsmas where we gather with our group of close friends (we’ve been doing this for over a decade now, and throw a holiday party.

My best friend is amazing, and they even have a designated calm room for Jacob downstairs. He can do whatever he wants— there’s a bed in there, he can turn on and off the lights, plenty of blankets, along with some of his favorite things: a bouncing ball, balance board, and fidget toys.

While not everyone will do this for your child, your close family members who want you there will make something work for you and your family— do explain to the host that your child needs a place to decompress— which most of our kids do.

I have a sister-in-law, who is incredibly gracious and will allow our son into their master bedroom, and even use their hot tub… we all know how much our kids love pools and hot tubs, so of course, this is his favorite room— ever.

Let go of other people’s expectations of you and your family– especially during the holiday season.

So, figure out whose home is “safe” for your child. And if they can’t accommodate your child, due to space or unwillingness… do you really want to be there? Will you have a good time attending an event, when you’re constantly worried about how upset your child will be?

While the examples I listed above may be what some deem as extreme examples, it doesn’t have to be a master bedroom or a downstairs area, but your child needs a safe space. And just because someone can’t accommodate your family, doesn’t mean they don’t love you, and want to exclude you— it may simply not be something they can do.

And it is absolutely okay.

Just like we don’t have to say yes, simply because something is expected of us, they don’t have to either. But they’re not going to be able to have an opportunity to say yes if we don’t allow them the opportunity. 

Steer clear of people who don’t understand your child’s needs, and are just plain rude. While you can’t disown your family, sometimes you may have family members who you don’t quite get along with— and that is okay. As long as they’re not rude to your child.

If someone is flat out rude and makes your child feel uncomfortable— they don’t acknowledge them or look at them with disdain, can we all agree that it is simply not okay? It is okay to say no, and not attend gatherings and parties— do you really want that person in your child’s life?

Now, if an event is being held in neutral territory, or they absolutely have to be there, and as long as they are not rude to your children, then take a deep breath, and it’ll be over soon enough. After all, it’s just one event. 

But sometimes, we just need a little bit of quiet.

In a season that screams for us to do more, consider what it means to do less. Less hustle, more grace. Fewer gifts , more presence. Less shopping, more memory-making. Less work, more play.

Less frantic– quieter. Less doing, more simply being still. .

Less allows you to release and let go of everything that’s vying for your attention so you can focus on doing more of the things that’s life-giving. It allows you to create more margin to cultivate relationships.

We love the sights and sounds of Christmas, and love partaking in all the little events and activities that take place this time of year.

But sometimes, we just need a little bit of quiet.

And for us, that’s by the water. It gives us time to just take a break from the demands of everyday life. 

One of the areas we’ve been struggling with a lot lately is figuring out how to best help facilitate communication for our son. What we didn’t want to do is push, because he’s constantly met with expectations. There’s always a constant pressure to perform.

That’s why we bring him to the water. 

There are no expectations. 

He doesn’t have to try to control his verbal stims to make others around him comfortable. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

We just sit and watch the waves go by. He can get up and walk. Run around freely. With no one telling him what to do. 

Allow your child to dictate the day’s activity.

How awful is it for our children when they’re constantly being told what to do all.the.time. 

Can you imagine how frustrating that would be?

As our son continues to grow older, we learned to follow his leading. That doesn’t mean he always gets to have things his way. But it does allow room for him to make decisions about what he wants to do. 

If you’re always being told what to do, how liberating is it for you to be able to call the shots?

When they’re feeling out of control, and caught up in the hustle & bustle of the holiday season. Things will feel chaotic, and what better gift than we can give to them during this busy season, then to slow down and allow them to have a voice in the activities we choose to engage in during an otherwise busy season.

I hope you found this post helpful, and as my gift to you, I want to hand over my AML Holiday Guide to help you stress less than Christmas.

Happy holidays friends! And I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Love,

the Lach family.

Related: Easy Holiday Meal Planning Tips for Busy Moms

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A STRESS-FREE (MINIMAL MELTDOWNS) HOLIDAY SEASON

want more joy this holiday season?

that you can do right now!

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AUTISM

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