AT HOME WITH
Holidays are something that so many people look forward to, a break from our normal routines. There are parties, seldom-seen relatives, special foods and traditions that come with holidays. Children impacted by autism or other developmental disabilities face challenges around holidays for the same reasons that others in their family look forward to them.
The Fourth of July brings with it unique challenges for children impacted by autism. For children who do not adapt well to sensory changes, there are loud fireworks, the smells of BBQ and fireworks and the heat and water associated with outdoor activities, to name a few. For children who struggle to engage socially there are friends and relatives, hoping to spend time with them. In these busy environments, it can make it even harder for them to communicate their needs and instead utilize problem behaviors to get their point across.
We know that many of these children thrive when they have structured environments, predictable schedules and choices about their daily lives. Does this mean that the families should avoid holiday celebrations and stick to the daily routine? Absolutely not. However, additional preparation leading up to a holiday can really pay off for children impacted by autism.
Ways you can prepare:
- Create a social story for your child. Keep it simple, but include specific details about what you will do, where you will go, who you will see, how your child is expected to act and what they can do if they need a break from the action. Pictures or video are typically helpful to include. Read this story with your child multiple times a day leading up to the holiday.
- Create a “safe space” for your child. Set up an area just for them with a few comforting items, that may help them calm down and allow them to take a break from the festivities. If you are concerned that your child will never leave this area, use a timer or other visual to let them know when they can be in their “safe space.”
- Practice, Practice, Practice! Set up opportunities for your child to practice the upcoming events. Watch videos of fireworks and increase the volume every day. Eat foods that you expect to eat on the fourth, video chat with relatives and practice what to say to them. You know your child best; if you are concerned about a particular portion of the festivities, set aside time to practice it in advance and as often as possible.
As I conclude, please allow me to stand on my safety soapbox. The dangers of wandering behaviors in children impacted by autism have been well documented. Drowning is the number one cause of death in children impacted by autism. In a busy environment like a holiday party, it only takes a few seconds to lose track of one of our kids. I urge every family to make a safety plan and enlist help from trusted friends or family members. Utilize the buddy system, have an adult in charge of monitoring water, exits, and fireworks, and have an emergency plan.