Holidays with Autism
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Special to The Dallas Examiner


About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder according to estimates from the CDC.

ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

ASD is about 4 times more common among boys than among girls.

With Christmas just around the corner, Kim Gorham, clinical director for Life Skills Autism Academy, hoped to help make families and loved ones aware of how everything about the holidays can be difficult or stressful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The academy is the leading national provider of Applied Behavior Analysis therapy for children with autism and their families. The first of its kind, the academy opened Aug. 27 in Plano to offer individualized ABA therapy plans for each child, while also providing meals and other services.

Gorham offered the following advice to help families prepare for the holidays:

  • Try not to miss out on ABA therapy – Try and maintain the child’s therapy schedule as much as possible. If they miss hours, try to schedule make up time. ABA therapy is an important part of a child’s routines and can help reduce the stress of school breaks and holiday hustle and bustle.
  • Avoid surprises – Changes to routine can be hard for children with autism. Whenever possible, make a schedule with photos so that they know what to expect at parties, outings, and other events. Try to stick to routines. Maintaining your child’s usual breakfast and bedtime can give a sense of comfort during a busy holiday season. Calendars are helpful. If you celebrate Christmas, an advent calendar can be helpful to indicate the end of the season. You can even schedule a weekend when decorations will come down.
  • Decorate gradually – Don’t put all your decorations up at once. Add them gradually to allow for your child to adjust at each step. Have them hang decorations with you and be a part of the decisions you make.
  • Don’t fret about the food – It may seem like a good time to convince them to try something new, but it really isn’t. The holiday season, and parties in general, aren’t the best times to work on expanding ASD kids’ diets or palates – when things are chaotic. If you are hosting, let them pick some menu items. If visiting another home, take food that’s comforting and familiar to help them through. You are welcome to contact the host to find out the menu and to let them know you will bring food, and don’t expect the host to make any dietary accommodations.
  • Bring along comfort items – Allow your child to bring items that he or she finds comforting. Allow them to pack a small bag with their favorite items like iPads with headphones, toys, books, blankets, and anything that will sooth the child if the situation becomes over-stimulating.
  • Secure a quiet space – When visiting someone else’s home, ask the host if there is a room or small area that can be designated as a quiet space. Show this space to your child and allow them to leave their items there. If at home, make the child’s room off-limits to anyone other than that child.
  • Don’t force – Children with autism spectrum disorders can become overwhelmed by new sights, sounds, food, and people. In an attempt to protect themselves, they may completely shut out sensory information by withdrawing or by doing repetitive behaviors. Encourage your child to participate, but don’t force them to sit for hours of gift exchanges, look people in the eye while speaking, or to hug every person at the party.
  • Let go of expectations – Some people with autism have a hard time understanding the nuances of traditions and celebrations. Expecting them to have the same level of excitement as neuro-typical children can be a setup for disappointment. Let go of the notion that any celebration must go a certain way in order to be a success. Instead, focus on making the event as enjoyable as possible for the entire family.

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