How to Support Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder During the Holidays. For families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children, the holidays can be a complicated time. For many, the idea of gathering with friends and family is a welcome one, but they may worry about ensuring gatherings are comfortable for their ASD child.
BlueSprig Pediatrics compiled a list of thoughtful, helpful ways to support families with ASD children below.
If you’re inviting a family over for a holiday meal, the best thing to do is to ask in advance how to best make your environment comfortable and fun for their family. Ideas include:
- Help prepare for change. If the family is traveling to your house, send photos of your house in advance of their visit. For many children, seeing the house and decorations will help them know what to expect and may lessen anxiety.
- Similarly, it is great to send photos of the other people who will be in attendance in advance. This will help ASD kids get familiar of people who will be there and learn names.
- Being more specific about food. Really picky eaters. Favorite brand-name items. Some of the things available will make a difference.
- Determine what may distract your ASD guest (i.e. scented candles or music) and offer to put away those items or lower music.
- Food can be a challenge for many ASD kids. Ask their parent specifics about how to best accommodate their child’s meal. For example, if portion control is a challenge, offer support monitoring around buffet tables or snack tables or plate food instead. Or for the picky eaters, offer to purchase the exact type and brand of food their child will eat/feel comfortable with.
- Provide a goodie bag with distractions.
- Set-up a quiet room or sensory retreat in the house with appropriate toys and devices.
- Talk to other kids attending celebration about autism and what to expect.
- Reiterate to your friend / extended family that you don’t expect things to be perfect and welcome their family just the way they are.
And most importantly, if your friend or family can’t make the celebration, keep inviting them even if and reiterate that they are a valued friend and family.
If a family is not able to gather outside of their home, there are still ways to support them including:
- Offer to run errands for families.
- Offer respite time for families including overnight stays for families who may have children who wake up often at night.
- Since some families are unable to safely leave decorations up all month, offer to have host a “pop up” decoration day, putting up decorations for the family for a day or two to enjoy and taking it down shortly after.