The holidays are an exciting time for families to get together and take a break from the hectic day-to-day hustle and bustle of typical life. While we may look forward to the holidays with music, extra decorations, and seeing far-flung relatives, children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may not see this gathering quite the same way. While each child is different, there are things that you can do to make this holiday season happier for your family and for a child with special needs.

1. Discuss the Holidays Talk about the holidays with your son or daughter on their level. Visuals can assist in talking about gifts and traditions. Review with them pictures of relatives that they will be seeing. Practice with them opening gifts and going over social rules about letting others open gifts. Take the time to review these in a relaxing setting. When the time comes, the practice and discussion will go a long way in reminding her or him about what is occurring. This is true whether it is getting the picture with Santa or politely refusing Aunt Edna’s mince meat pie.

2. Keep the Stress Low We may have the best laid out plans, but be prepared for the possibility of having those plans change depending on how your child is doing. It is okay if you son or daughter is not up to being with the family for two hours. Be honest in accessing what your child can or cannot tolerate with the extra sounds, lights, and people. Have a time away before he or she reaches that limit. Trying to squeeze 15 more minutes with you cousin will not be worth it when the meltdown happens.

3. Have a Plan If you are not sure what your son or daughter can handle, have a plan for what to do if you feel he or she is going to have difficulty. Know if there is a quiet place to relax in your relatives homes. Are there suitable close by parks to bring your child if he or she needs to burn of energy? Can you bring items with you that will keep him or her engaged? Should you bring two cars so your significant other can take your son or daughter home so the other can stay with the other siblings? These are all valid questions to consider in advance.

4. Remember the Meaning of the Holidays Holidays are for family and friends to get together. Just as no family is typical, no holiday needs to be typical. Remember to take a breath if you find yourself getting frustrated because you want your son and daughter to participate in particular event. Ask yourself is this enjoyable for him or her; is this enjoyable for me? If not, stop and do something you both will enjoy as a family.


This post was written by Dr. Michael Wright, regional director of Trumpet Behaviorl Health’s southern California locations. Dr. Wright joined Trumpet in 2005. He is a licensed psychologist with over 18 years in the field. Trumpet Behavioral Health strives to provide exceptional behavior treatment services for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).