Hints for the Holidays
With the holidays quickly approaching and a return to a pre-COVID holiday season, families may be busy planning and attending holiday events, which can present challenges for all children. The holidays bring lots of environmental changes in routines or schedules, caregivers, and social expectations. Changes in routines and expectations can be particularly difficult for children on the autism spectrum. The science of behavior analysis provides evidence-based strategies that may help your child manage those changes.
• Use lots of positive reinforcement. Notice and praise any “good” behaviors! Reinforcing desired behaviors will increase the odds your child will do those behaviors again.
• Keep the morning and nighttime routines as consistent as possible.
• Use priming – allowing your child to preview what is about to happen. This can be done through using calendars and schedules. Knowing what to expect may help your child with
transitions. Schedules can be words or pictures that show the sequence of events. This could be for a day or a holiday function. You can also look at family pictures of past holiday events to let your child know what is coming up.
• Priming can also include practicing desired behaviors before the actual event such as opening presents, giving high fives to relatives, or any other behavior a child needs help with.
• Use activity menus – children will be out of school and/or ABA services during the holidays. Often children with autism aren’t yet skilled in independently managing their time. An activity menu can use words or pictures to help children select something to do during their free time.
• Help friends and family have positive interactions with your child by sharing information with them beforehand such as what your child likes or doesn’t like or how your child communicates.
• Have an exit strategy for holiday functions. It’s preferable to respond to early warning signs your child is becoming distressed before behaviors escalate. Exit strategies may include having a quiet place to retreat to, using redirection or increasing reinforcement for desired behaviors.
• With so much time and attention required in raising children, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. The holidays can add additional stress for parents and caregivers, demanding more time, energy and resources. Remember that it’s okay to say no, send regrets for an event, or ask for help.
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The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for
guidance from a behavior analyst or other healthcare provider.