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Holiday Gatherings with a Child on the Autism Spectrum

The holiday season is a busy time of year, and while this season brings a lot of joy, it can be quite stressful for a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities. Holiday gatherings mean more socializing, loud conversations and games, meals with strange foods, and a disruption to the normal schedule, all of which can be difficult for a parents of a child with ASD to navigate.

However, you can still enjoy gatherings with your child. In this article, we've highlighted some of the biggest challenges children with autism spectrum disorder experience during the holiday season and offer a few tips to help keep your child calm and happy at social events.

How Do Holiday Gatherings Affect Children With Autism?

For children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or developing ASD symptoms, the holidays can present various unique challenges. Without a proper action plan, parents or caregivers are at greater risk of being caught off-guard when the children begin to have difficulties. Here's how holiday gatherings can affect people with ASD:

A Change in Routine Can Affect Their Mental Health

Children with ASD usually do better when they have a set schedule and follow a very specific routine. It can be difficult for them to do something out of their routine, which happens quite a bit during the holiday season with school being on break, family gatherings, community events, and other special activities organized to celebrate.

They May Experience Sensory Issues to Environmental Factors

Every child with autism has a different sensory profile and different ASD symptoms. Some children can handle foods with lots of flavors and textures, while others prefer a simple and familiar meal. Some children aren't comfortable in a room two degrees below or above room temperature, while others are okay in different environments. Loud noises and large crowds can be too much for a lot of children on the autism spectrum, while others are able to tune it out. No matter the case with your child, violations of their sensory needs can be severely distressing and you need to be aware of the risk factors.

Gatherings Can Put a Social Pressure on Them

For many people, the holidays mean parties, dinners, events, and socializing, but it can put stressful pressure on children with autism spectrum disorders. It may be terrifying for some children to have to interact with a lot of people, especially if they have slow language development. Having to converse with new people can overwhelm them with different emotions.

Therapist-Suggested Tips for Attending Social Gatherings With Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Every parent wants their child to be able to have some social interaction with family members and friends. If you are preparing to bring a young child with ASD to any special events this holiday season, these tips can help:

Prepare in Advance

Make sure to prepare your child for the gathering well in advance. Discuss the change in schedule and what they can expect at the event multiple times. Go over all the activities you know about and the people who will be there. Try to have your kid interact with new people slowly so that they get comfortable meeting them in person. This can mean a few video calls with their grandparents so they can recognize them at the gathering. It will also improve their social communication skills in other situations.

Tell the Hosts About Your Child's Special Needs

Please make sure the hosts are aware your child has a developmental disorder and go over some of their specific symptoms. For example, you ask them to avoid loud music if your child has sensory issues or warn them your child only does nonverbal communication so they shouldn't force a conversation. You might ask them to arrange some special activities or a quiet space they can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed.

Autism-Friendly Food Can Make Your Child Happy

Having ASD affects a child's senses and can make them dislike certain food flavors and textures. Food prepared to your child's liking can make them more comfortable and able to enjoy the gathering easier. You can speak to the host about the menu to make sure there are one or two dishes your child will like or you can bring a meal of their favorites you prepared at home.

Take Breaks

A gathering can go on for hours, so taking a few breaks away from the crowd can help keep your child calm. Ask the hosts for a room where you can spend some time with your child to talk about how they are feeling or maybe do a quiet activity alone to keep them happy.

Get Help From Professionals

According to the American Psychiatric Association, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy and speech-language therapy are effective for children diagnosed with autistic disorder. These therapies can help children by improving their adaptive social skills and decreasing inappropriate behaviors. At Therapyland, we offer a wide range of therapies for children with autism spectrum disorder. Our therapists collaborate between different disciplines and will provide you with personalized solutions designed to treat specific symptoms of your child. Don't hesitate to contact us today! Call us at 678-648-7644 or fill out the contact us form to learn more about how we can help you and your family.