Make the holidays successful!


This is a question that we often receive from family members who want to help make any holiday successful.  Christmas brings its own set of challenges with traditions and environment changes that don’t always work for our individuals with ASD. We wanted to provide you with some concrete tools that will allow you to be a part of solutions for the holidays. 

Let’s start with some of the struggles:

Kids with Autism like: Christmas brings:
Structure ↓ structure and lots of “free time”
Routine Special events, change in bed time routine, meal routine, school routine, etc.
Specific sensory stimulation Lots of lights, music, smells, different food, sounds, crowds
Logical and literal thinking Trees that are inside, lights that are on houses, metaphors, traditions
Familiarity Visiting distant relatives and friends, strangers in malls, carolers at the door, Santa, etc.

Now some of the solutions:

  1. Keep the regular routine as much aspossible.   We understand that Holidays are a time for schedules and routines to be put aside, but ourchildren need the security that comes along with those routines.  It can feel like your family members arebeing rigid and not “going with the flow”, but what they are really doing is setting their child up for success. Flexibility and changing schedules makes it hard for the child with ASD to cope. 

You can help by:

  • Asking what kind of help they need to keep bedtimes regular.
  • Finding out the times that your family members may need to eat, leave or go to bed.  Start events like movies, games, dinners with enough time that they aren’t rushed or have to leave part way through.

  • Supporting them when they have to leave.  We all want our family members to stay as long as possible but that may not be  in their best interest
  • Ask ahead of what their child’s favourite/usual foods are and have them on hand.  Trying new foods when the environment is already different is like asking you to learn a new skill with everyone watching and giving their input.  Our brains get overloaded and can’t learn or adapt.

  • Help create a quiet and safe place where your familymember with ASD can go to get away from everyone and the noise.  This is a great coping tool that will beuseful for them for life, they are not just escaping.  We teach them self-regulation daily and theyneed to practice over the holidays.
  • Be Aware of Sensory Overload. Flashing lights ontrees, loud Christmas carols, people in costume, etc. can overload your child’s senses. There is so much disorganized noise everywhere we go during the holiday season (music, loud voices, multiple conversations, as well as visual noise, bright lights, decorations, etc) that your family member may feel overwhelmed morequickly than usual. Strong smells during Christmas can create feelings of being overwhelmed. 

You can help by:

  • Asking parents what smells their child struggles withso that you can help reduce their environmental stress. 

  • Understand that your family member with ASD willprobably not be able to try on any new clothing that they receive aspresents.  Tags, materials, seams can allbe triggers for sensory overload.

  • Don’t worry if they show up in their favourite shirt,pajamas, sweat pants for Christmas dinner or church.  Wearing fancy clothes can be itchy and mayfeel different than their regular clothes. You may not notice it when you put on new clothes but a child with ASD it can feel like wearing a potato sack.

  • Turn down music. Often we don’t realize how loud a room can be with music in the background, multiple conversations, children playing, TV.  We zone it out naturally.  The child with ASD takes it ALL in and they become overloaded.           
  •  Using visuals for Support. Usin gvisuals often will allow a child with ASD to adapt and be flexible.  Sometimes words are just too much toprocess.  This may seem like “babying”the child, but it is a concrete tool that helps them adapt.  We use visuals, plans, calendars, choice pictures every day in school and they are used to the process.  It is calming for their brain.  As a child gets older the visual schedule isstill helpful but it may change to a daytimer on a phone or a notebook in theirpocket.

You can help by:

  • Supporting your family members in using a visual schedule. 

  • Ask how you can help and learn how their visual schedule works.

  • Use pictures to explain what to expect – especially if the event/activity is causing your child with ASD anxiety.  Using more words or long explanations often doesn’t help the child.

  • Make it fun to use a visual schedule. Join in: “Grandma made a schedule of how we are going to bake cookies.  What’s next?” or “Aunty needs to check her schedule.  What’s next?”

  • Keep it Simple  A consistent scheduleand structure are important especially with no school to create a framework forthe day.  The child with ASD loves predictability and needs to know what is happening next. 
  • Do not overschedule your family events. Itmight be fun for everyone else to go the zoo, sing Christmas carols and have afamily dinner all in the same day but that often doesn’t work for a child with ASD.  One big event in a day is often enough.

  • Don’t be offended if your family members pass on an event or part of a day.  Remember that they are doing their best for their child and are the experts on their child.  As a school we do a lot of parenteducation on how to set your child up for success.  They are supported and educated by therapyteams that specialize in ASD.  They are not making up these strategies or using them as excuses.  They are learning to work with their child in a way that allows them to be successful. 

  • Support your family members in their way of life and family rhythm they have created.  They are doing it purposefully and for the success of their child.  They need your understanding and support.  It is hard to create structure in family life. 

New Heights Smiley


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Dec 1

Photo Re-Takes

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Dec 2

PAC meeting

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Dec 9


A virtual assembly, brought to us by the Mount Kidd classroom.