It’s that wonderful, busy, stressful time of year, the holiday season. For many of us, the excitement and joy of the holidays may feel like the most wonderful time of the year, but, for individuals with autism who struggle with change, sensory sensitivities, and social situations, the holiday season feels anything but wonderful. Individuals with autism can feel overwhelmed, anxious and withdrawn. So, how can you help someone you love with autism make the holiday season a little more friendly? Try a few of these suggestions:
1. Holiday decorations are a big part of the holiday season for many families, but, for individuals with autism, who often crave routine and sameness, moving the chair in the corner to make room for the Christmas tree may be very upsetting. Include the family member with autism in the decorating process by giving them a little control over where the decorations go.
2. Food often takes center stage during the holiday season, however, for people with autism who may have a limited diet, those holiday meals can be overwhelming. Make sure to include one thing the person with autism enjoys so they can feel part of the celebration.
3. If you love the smell of pine candles and the cozy feeling a basket of cinnamon-scented pine cones gives to your family room, keep in mind the sensory sensitivities of many individuals with autism and resist the temptation to fill your room with all those holiday scents.
4. For many people, the holiday season includes gift giving. Give family and friends some sensory friendly gift suggestions for your loved one with autism and if opening gifts and not knowing what is inside makes an individual with autism anxious, have them open their gifts in a quieter area on their terms and in their time.
5. If any of your family holiday traditions overwhelm an individual with autism, ask family and friends if some of those traditions can be changed and if they are resistant, maybe it’s time to start your own family traditions.
The best part of the holiday season is spending time with those we love. Making sure all members of our family can feel this love is the best gift you can give this season.
Kate Hooven is a Central PA mom to three children, Kyle, Ryan and Emma. Her middle child, Ryan, was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, an autism spectrum diagnosis) when he was 6; she stresses that anything she shares online, she does with Ryan’s permission. You can follow Kate here on her Keeping It Real blog; you can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and at her website, The AWEnesty of Autism.