Just because your child has autism, that doesn’t mean you can’t have an amazing holiday together. Great times lay ahead, and it all begins in your own mind. You, as the parent, set the tone for the holidays with your expectations, preparations, and priorities. Beautiful moments don’t always make themselves, but with a bit of forethought, you can plan a holiday that will be truly cheerful for both you and your child. Here’s how:

  • Have a sensory plan in place: During the holidays, sensory overload is around every corner. Shopping trips to the mall, holiday parties, and family get-togethers are all challenging situations for a child with autism. Planning and preparation before all these events are essential. Prepare a cocoon where your child can spend some quiet time if needed. Use noise-eliminating headphones if necessary. Keep lights dim, and if smells trigger strong reactions in your child, you may consider asking your guests to leave the cologne or perfume at home.
  • Gift mindfully: While your child may be highly interested in electronics, you are trying to minimize screen time, so digital media may not make the best gift. You know your child best. Talk to the therapists on your team and brainstorm a Wish List for your child. Most children with autism do best with structured play sets like puzzles and craft activities. Melissa and Doug is an extensive line of toys that are autism-friendly, durable, and reasonably priced. Tricycles and bicycles are also an excellent choice. The reciprocal motion involved in peddling a bike is highly stimulating for brain function.
  • Reach out to others: Extended family members, while well-intentioned, cannot be expected to know how to gift appropriately. Compose a letter to family and friends requesting their cooperation with gifting. You can use this opening paragraph by copying and pasting, or write an individual version sharing your sentiments:
    • Dear Family and Friends, As the holidays draw near, we are trying to take steps to make sure that Malcolm’s holiday is the best it can be. We know that he has unique needs, and we’d like to share some suggestions with you so that you can give him a gift that will be most productive for his growth and development! Please consult the attached Wish List before purchasing a gift for Malcolm. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and consideration!
  • Live in the moment: The ability to experience joy has more to do with your mindset, and less to do with your circumstances. Producing joy and happiness during the holiday is all in your power! Do the things that you know make your child smile, like swinging, rocking, bouncing and tickling. Take pleasure in your child’s laughter, and get as many pictures as you can! Take the time to sing with your child, and give him those deep-pressure squeezes that he thrives on. The more love and attention you give him, the more joy and peace you will experience. Linger in the moments and allow yourself to feel them fully.

While there is no denying that the holidays present some real challenges for families of children with autism, don’t let those challenges scare you! The holidays are a chance to slow down, bond with your child, and create long-lasting memories. If you are proactive about preparing, you will almost certainly achieve what you really want—a loving, joy-filled holiday filled with memorable moments for your family.