by Marijke Callahan, M.Ed., BCBA – Northeast Arc’s Autism ABA Services

With the holidays fast approaching, we all need to find ways to handle the excitement and chaos that inevitably ensues. So, what makes this time of the year so potentially difficult?

The holidays typically present a break in services for your child. The routine changes and there may be less structure. The increase in unpredictability and interaction with less familiar people may result in increased anxiety and challenging behavior. Here are just a few suggestions for helping your child (and you) survive the holiday season!

Strategies: Lack of Structure
• Establish a “new” daily routine. Your child may be confused about not going out to school each day. Use first-then language or a visual board. For example, “First grocery store, then dinner with family.” A daily, weekly, or monthly visual schedule can help explain changes to the schedule and make the unpredictable more predictable.

• Social Stories™ can be another great tool to help explain changes to the typical routine. A simple story can communicate to your child what to expect and how they should behave. For example:
“This week there is a change. I will not go to school. I will stay at home. Some family might come to visit. I might get nervous when there are a lot of extra people in the house. This is okay. I can go to my room. Or I can take a big deep breath. Everyone will be excited to see me during the holidays!”

Strategies: Change in Routine
• Teach your child to understand the language of changes and a response for when changes occur. For example, “There is a change” or “Something different is happening today.” A response might be, “Oh well,” “No big deal,” or “It’s a change.”

• If you are using a visual schedule, place a visual symbol on your schedule to indicate that a change is going to happen!

Strategies: Different People and Unpredictability
• Provide a “letter of introduction” about your child for less familiar people. This can include your child’s likes and dislikes as well as simple ways to interact with them.

• Make a photo book of extended family and review it with your child to prepare them for visits.

• If you are traveling, use photos of where you are going, social stories, and/or a calendar to let your child know when you are going and when you will return home.

• Teach your child greetings and other social skills. Teach these skills before your child will need to use them!

Strategies: Challenging Behavior
• Know what works and doesn’t work for your child

• Set realistic limits. The routine is different so the expectations have to change as well.

• Have a plan and ensure that everyone follows it consistently.

Enjoy the holiday season!