If you are the parent of a child with ASD, you know the importance of routines. Because children with ASD often display rigidity and are uncomfortable with changing plans, routines help to make them feel safe and secure. During the holidays, the disruption of the regular school schedule, paired with the disruptive and over-stimulating nature of the holidays themselves, can negatively impact a child with ASD. Don’t worry, you’ve got this. It just takes some thought and planning.
Keep as regular a routine as possible. A different set of events on your schedule doesn’t mean some things can’t stay the same. Keeping the same bedtime every night, waking at the usual time, and keeping mealtimes to a normal schedule can go a long way towards a successful holiday. Even if you’re traveling, try to keep things as close to the usual routine as possible.
Discuss disruptions ahead of time. This is one of the most important things you can do, and there are many tools for you to use. Keep a calendar with your whole schedule clearly posted and use social stories to explain to your children how events are going to happen. Try a first/then strategy to help children know what to expect: First we’ll go to the parade, then we’ll have lunch. It’s also good to use warnings, letting kids know when a transition is imminent.
Limit screen time. It’s easy to let kids zone out in front of screens when they’re out of school, but it’s beneficial in the long run to set reasonable limits.
Involve kids in planning and preparation. Let kids weigh in on the family traditions that are most important to them. Then, let them help make the holidays happen. Making place cards for Thanksgiving, helping to put up decorations or set the table, picking out items to donate, choosing or making gifts for family members- these are all things that children can do. When you let them help, it can ease the stress of a disrupted routine.
Two words: Simplicity and Flexibility. When you keep things as simple as you can, you take pressure off of yourself and your kids. When you remain flexible, you’ll be better able to handle the challenges you encounter, and you’ll be modeling an important life skill.