For many, the holidays are a time of excitement, anticipation, and happiness. But for families of an individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the holidays can prove quite stressful, especially when travel or a change in routine is involved. This is why autism awareness at Christmas (and any other holiday) is so important .
Whether you are traveling with a special needs child or adult, or you are welcoming them into your home this holiday season, Morgan Guidance is here to help you navigate the holidays with them in mind. We’ll share what common autism triggers to avoid, and how to help children with autism find joy and peace for the many holidays to come.
Understanding What Triggers Autism Meltdowns and Shutdowns
Meltdowns can most often be attributed to high levels of stress or anxiety caused by a variety of autism triggers, including:
Social & Sensory Overload
Lack of Sleep
Unexpected Events or Demands
Meltdowns can also cause the individual to shut down, where they completely withdraw from the environment around them, choosing not to speak or interact in order to recover from the stressful situation they are experiencing.
Meltdowns and shutdowns can be caused by one or a number of stressful events. With the hustle and bustle the holidays can bring, it’s very common for meltdowns and shutdowns to occur, and while holidays for autistic adults may be easier to navigate, holidays with young ASD children may come with more of a learning curve.
To help reduce holiday-induced stress, here are four autism awareness Christmas tips to utilize for happier holidays from here on out.
Four Autism Awareness Christmas and Holiday Tips
1. Plan Ahead and Involve Everyone
The first tip for helping reduce autism triggers is advanced planning and preparation. Anytime there is a change to your child’s normal routine, they should know about it in as much detail, and as much advance notice as you believe they need. Share the who, what, when, and where of the holiday events in advance so nothing comes as a surprise and causes a stress overload.
For instance, you could provide your child with a photo album of who will be coming, where you will be going, and what they will be seeing or doing. This may help ease their minds and make sure there are as few surprises as possible.
If your holiday plans include traveling to see or stay with family members or friends, don’t be afraid to communicate with family members how important sticking to the holiday routine is for your child, and why. Share with them the anticipated holiday timeline your child is comfortable with, or plan the holiday happenings in advance so everyone is on the same page long before the events take place.
2. Try to Maintain Routine
A change in routine is one of the most common autism triggers. Provide as much support as you can during the holidays with advanced planning, and reassure them that the planned events are temporary changes, and that their routine will be back to normal after the holidays.
Try to keep as much routine as possible, like morning and nightly routines, or daily rituals that help them stay on track during the day. You may also want to carry toys, books, or items that help calm them in stressful situations.
3. Avoid Sensory Overload
During the holidays, the most common sensory overload autism triggers include excessive noise from music and talking, flashing lights, crowds, eating unfamiliar foods, wearing scratchy, uncomfortable clothing, and strong or unusual smells.
If you are traveling for the holidays to a relative’s, plan with them in advance to limit your child’s sensory triggers. Let them know what sight, sound, touch, taste, or smells tend to trigger meltdowns, and work to limit those encounters. Cook foods your child loves instead of forcing them to eat a traditional meal. This may help your child feel like their routine is not completely missing.
4. Provide a Space of Quiet Comfort
Regardless of what your holiday plans include, your child needs to know they have a dedicated quiet space they can retreat to when things get to be too much for them. A quiet space can significantly help reduce the chance for meltdowns by allowing them to leave the situation when things become too much to handle, rather than build their stress levels to the point of a meltdown or shutdown. Encourage them to go to their safe space when they are feeling stressed, and be sure to give them plenty of calming activities they can use to calm their nerves while in their space.
The holidays are certainly a stressful time for ASD families, but with advanced planning and coping tactics in place, you and your family can enjoy the holidays with less stress and more joy.
Contact Morgan Guidance today to learn more about how to best support your autistic child at home and in the classroom with our educational planning, therapeutic consulting, and parent education & support programs.
From the Morgan Guidance family to yours, Happy Holidays in whatever ways you celebrate the days and seasons ahead.