Enjoying the Holidays: Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

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Holiday Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year, full of family traditions and seasonal favorites. The holidays can also be overwhelming, especially for children with autism and their families. 

This year, with the added consideration of COVID-19, there are different challenges to consider, but with a little preparation and a lot of patience, you can create a holiday experience that your entire family can enjoy.

1.) Pre-game Prep

Take time to prepare your kiddo for the holidays and new experiences you have planned.  Reading books and watching videos about the holidays are fun ways to get into the holiday spirit.  If you are planning to travel or gather with family and friends, the following are a few tools I have found helpful with my kids:

  • Social Stories – Create a basic story of what your kiddo will be doing and steps they can take to feel balanced and regulated.  This is a link to Personalized Social Story Templates from Autism Speaks
  • Pictures of Friends & Relatives- If you are going to be socializing with friends and relatives, show your kiddo pictures of the people they will be visiting with and label the photos with each person’s name.
  • Let Them Help- As you are preparing for the holidays, encourage your kiddo to lend a hand.  Remember, participation is different for everyone.  For some, arts & crafts or cooking is a fun way to help, while others may be content with being in the same room with you.

2.) Manage Expectations 

Keeping plans simple and managing expectations are essential in enjoying the holidays with my kids.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.  In order for me to model the behavior I want to see in my kids & stay calm, I’ve learned to keep things simple.  ere are a few other tips I find helpful during the holidays:

  • Keep Routines & Consistent Schedules- Keeping schedules and routines consistent, will help your kiddo feel balanced. Try to plan holiday meals during a time that works best for your family.
  • Pick Your Battles-  If the goal is to enjoy stress free holidays, this may not be the time to introduce new foods, goals or challenging activities.  Set your kiddo ( and yourself) up for success and keep it simple.

3.) Plan Ahead

Creating a game-plan in advance is a great way to reduce stress for you and your family. Take some time to identify what your family needs to enjoy a successful holiday experience and be sure to ask for help. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful in planning for the holidays:

  • Timing – From planning mealtimes to duration of visits, timing is everything.  Choose times that work best for your family and plan around them.  I find that “short & sweet” is best when socializing with my family and plan our departure early, to avoid sensory overload.
  • Divide & Conquer –  Identify your kiddo’s needs for support and create a plan with your spouse, partner or family members.  Teamwork makes the dreamwork!  Take turns giving your kiddo the support s/he needs while visiting with friends and family.
  • Identify a Quiet Space – Whether you are hosting a gathering at home or visiting friends and family, it’s helpful to identify a quiet space that your kiddo can go to and take a break.  Remind your kiddo where the space is & encourage him/her to take regular breaks to chill out & reset.

4.) Be Present and Enjoy!

The holidays are a time to be with friends and family, express love and gratitude, and celebrate! Take this time to enjoy your family favorites like listening to music; cooking a special meal (or ordering takeout); or taking a quiet walk together. Take it easy- keep it simple & enjoy your beautiful family!


Jessica Goldberg | Autism Parent & Behavior Therapist/Outreach Specialist
Early Autism Services

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