Parties & Family Gatherings
- Be considerate of your child's needs at family gatherings and ensure there is a safe and quiet place your child can visit if things become overwhelming
- Practice sitting at the table with the plates, lighting and music before the family gathering.
- Offer a prediction of the event/people he or she will and provide prompting regarding "expected behavior," i.e. "after you greet, say hello to everyone, then you can go upstairs and watch TV/play your game."
- Let your child take along a favorite item/game/activity to do if things get boring or overwhelming.
- Talk to your occupational therapist for recommendations on how to prepare your child to handle the noise of the family gathering.
Santa & Presents
- If your child doesn’t want to sit on Santa’s lap, encourage them to try it and follow up with something they like. Don’t force it though. If you have to force it, you’re not going to get a good picture anyway.
- Create “rules for opening presents” and role-play what to say if your child doesn’t like a present someone gives them or if they already have it.
- If this is your child’s first year opening presents or if they have fine motor issues, wrap their current toys and let them practice opening gifts the week before.
- Count down when the gifts will be opened, “Ten days until we open gifts!” You might even use a visual count down. If this is still too enticing, consider hiding gifts until it’s time to open.
- If your child struggles when things don’t go as planned or if Santa doesn’t bring that present they want, open presents early or with just immediate family to allow them plenty of time to calm down.
- Avoid using glass ornaments on the tree; opt for plastic shatterproof decorations.
- Engage your child as much as possible in the decorating process. For some children, it may also be helpful to take them shopping for holiday decorations so they feel like part of the process.
- If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate the house gradually. You may also need to create rules about which decorations can be touched and which cannot. Be direct, specific and consistent.
- If you are traveling for the holidays, arrange to have your child’s favorite foods, books or toys available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations.
- If your son or daughter is flying for the first time, it may be helpful to bring them to the airport in advance of the trip to help them become accustomed to airports and airplanes. Additionally, prepare your child for unexpected flight delays.
Other Holiday Considerations
- Know your child and avoid potentially long and adverse trips to areas with light and sound displays, if necessary. The traffic can be terrible, the music may be different from that which your child usually listens to, and the display may not be as enjoyed by them as the parent would hope.
- If you will be visiting a friend’s or relative’s home, prepare your child in advance with information about pets, other children who may be there, food that will be served etc. If your child has a history of wandering, you should also find out from those you will be visiting what (if any) kind of home security system they have.
- Prepare a photo album of relatives and other guests whom your child will be seeing during the holidays. Go through the photo album with them while talking briefly about each family member, and allow your child free access to the album so it may be looked at again whenever desired.
Download a PDF version of these tips!
- Invite your neighbors to have a “rehearsal” for Halloween so your child can practice the steps. If this isn’t a possibility for you, it may be helpful to watch YouTube videos of trick-or-treating.
- Walk around the block a couple nights before so your child is familiar with houses in relation to yours. Let your child know the trick-or-treating route in advance.
- Encourage your child to try on his/her costume before Halloween.
- Role play “trick or treat!” Practice knocking on doors, saying trick or treat, answering a couple basic questions and saying thank you. If your child is nonverbal, have him/her hand each house a card with a greeting.
- Before you go out, discuss how much candy your child can eat and when.
Trick or Treating
- Use a visual map and cross off houses as you visit them.
- Set a time limit.
- Stay close to home where it’s familiar and easy to get back to quickly if necessary.
- Let your child stop when HE/SHE wants to stop, even if it’s only two houses in. Make sure an adult is available to take your child aside if they need a break or need to go home.
- Ask neighbors to answer the door quietly, without any strobe lights or scary greetings.
- Make yourself aware of houses to avoid based on decorations that are gory, that have excessive lighting or strobes, or any other aspects that you know will make your child uncomfortable.
- If your child has dietary or sensory concerns with different candy, provide neighbors with a snack your child likes/can eat the night before to hand out when your child comes.
- Join with other parents to throw a Halloween party that is autism-friendly based on the needs of your child and the needs of other party guests.
- Boo at the Zoo or Trunk or Treat activities at a local church could be a nice daytime alternative.
- Celebrate with a themed activity, such as Halloween activities at local museums or art institutions.
- Make sure your child has identifying information on him/her (tag, card, bracelet, etc.) in case you get separated.
Put something on your child such as a glow stick necklace to help you spot him/her in a crowd when it’s dark.
- Check all candy before your children eat it!
- Have your kiddos put on long johns or other warm clothing under their costumes in case it gets cold at night.
- Place a flashlight in the treat sack for your child to use when extra light is needed.
Remember, it's okay to stay at home!
- You can create your own Halloween tradition that fits your family’s needs. This could include a special movie night, creating Halloween-inspired foods together, or anything that is fun for the whole family.
- Keep it fun!!