Holiday Tips

Holiday Tips for Persons with Autism

How to Help Your Child Have a Happy Holiday By:

Dale S. Brown (2006)

The holiday season is a time for family togetherness, community and friendship. It is a time of parties, fun, and enjoyment. Unfortunately, children who struggle with social and behavioral problems can feel lonely and excluded during this happy time. You can make things easier for your child and help him or her enjoy the holidays and feel beloved. This article provides a dozen ideas designed to help your children with learning disabilities have a happy holiday and lessen stress on your family. Read these ideas and choose the ones that you think will help your child:

Help your child select or make unique gifts
Encourage children to use their talents to create something special for friends and family. Many youngsters with learning disabilities have artistic and mechanical abilities. You might help them create an electronic greeting card on the computer, cook homemade cookies as a gift, or make items such as holiday decorations.

Prepare your child for events such as holiday parties
Tell children the schedule and what you expect them to do. Tell them details such as these:     
•  Guests will arrive between 2 and 3. I will greet them at the door. I need you to stay in the family room. The children will join you there and play     

•  Most of the grown-ups will be in the living room, and most of the children will be in the family room. I will visit you occasionally and see how things are going. Come and get me if you need me     
•  The meal will start about 6. I need you to help me in the kitchen around 5:30 . We will get everything ready and ask people to come to the table and eat

Teach your child the names of guests ahead of time if possible
Consider showing him pictures or reminding him of people he has met before. Teach him how people are related to each other (brother, sister, wife, husband, cousin).

Role-play scenarios with your child
You might want to teach your child to receive a gift graciously, look happy when he opens it, and thank the giver by name. Or you might want to practice greeting guests at the door.

Prepare relatives and guests for the possibility of unusual behavior by your child or actions that might be misinterpreted
If any of these things are true, you might tell them that your child:     
•  Sometimes doesn’t get jokes     

•  Won’t understand a sarcastic tone of voice     
•  Will tend to take things very literally     
•  May talk without pause and not notice that someone wants to take a turn to speak     
•  Interrupts other people because he cannot tell when his conversational partner has finished speaking     
•  Dislikes being hugged, touched, or stroked     
•  Is clumsy and doesn’t like being teased about it
You could tell your guests how you wish they would act in response to these behaviors.

Consciously include your child with a learning disability in conversation and other activities
If your child does not know when to get her words into a conversation, keep an eye on her. Ask her opinion when she wants to talk. If she talks too much, interrupt her and guide the conversation to someone else. Give her a role in games. Invite her to participate in activities.

Plan to handle overstimulation
The crowds, loud noise, hustle, bustle, and confusion of holiday parties can cause some children to get overloaded with sensation. They can explode, “melt down” or “shut down.” Make a plan with your child. Tell him or her that they can ask you for time to leave the party and be alone in an empty room in the house or go outside. You and your spouse can keep an eye on your child and take him on a walk or sit quietly with him if he seems to be overwhelmed.

Tactfully make accommodations for your child’s difficulties
•  If a child has trouble reading before a group, ask the first few people who open gifts to avoid reading cards aloud. Hand your child her gift and say, “This is from Uncle John”     
•  If your child doesn’t get jokes, explain the joke to him privately or while laughing with everyone else as an extension of what makes the joke funny

Give your child a role that helps her to shine
You might ask her to:     
•  Cook something for the meal     
•  Put one of her projects in the living room, such as a mechanical train set she put together or an interesting science fair project     
•  Put together toys and games after the gift is opened     
•  Organize a group for a game     
•  Make a table centerpiece or decorations for a room     
•  Hand out gifts or other items to each guest

Thank the adults that guide your child
The holidays are a good time to express gratitude. Give your child’s teachers a note thanking them specifically for how they help your child. If a neighbor, babysitter, youth club leader, or other professional has taken a particular interest in your child, let them know how important they are to your child’s self-esteem and future growth. Help your child write a letter, give a gift, or make a special token of appreciation.

Read a holiday book to your child
Pick up a good holiday book and read it to your child for the sake of sharing the story. Let him hear the words and look at the pictures with no pressure to perform. Let him read if he wants, but if he makes mistakes, read the passage over correctly without being critical. If he gets curious, let him sound out words: but don’t make him do it. Just enjoy your child and enjoy the book.

Ask your child to do good deeds and contribute to your community
The holiday season is a good time to ask your child to do service projects that help others. Your whole family could volunteer. Or you and your spouse could go to an activity the first time and figure out the best way for your child to participate. Encourage children to follow up on their ideas that might help those who are less fortunate. These activities will help your child prepare for careers and develop self-esteem. Even more important, children with learning disabilities can make their communities better and should be encouraged to share their abilities.