Autism is characterised by learning and social deficiencies. These individuals are affected in their every day, as they often have trouble focusing, engage in compulsive behaviour or repetitive movements, and ultimately struggle to connect or interact with others. This can become especially present during the holiday season when there are a lot of people around and constant changes in routine.
The good news is that autism can be managed and treated. Counselling can help children, teens, and adults with autism to develop new life skills, improve communication, and cope with sensory information (like sounds and smells) that are bothersome.
What often goes undiscussed are the family members involved – specifically, how autism affects their lives. Fortunately, counselling can help these individuals too, which is essential to keep in mind. But, to better overcome these challenges and difficult times, it’s essential to know how certain areas can be affected.
Schedule changes during the holidays
Autism can demand a shift in schedule and overall lifestyle, as individuals with autism often have unique needs that need to be prioritised. LaQuista Erinna, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explained that while making this shift can be difficult, it proves important: ‘Our family took the proper precautions of early intervention services when our two-year-old was delayed in speech. Still, nothing prepared us for the official diagnosis. We had to completely shift our schedules and lifestyle to ensure our son, now three years old, got the proper service and support. As a military family, it isn’t easy at times to keep a consistent schedule for him. Consistency and structure are important for our son’s success.’
During the holidays, it’s important to keep this in mind. You’re often travelling from house to house and spending time with those you love. Although your children might already be familiar with these homes, there is uncertainty about what the days will bring. Be sure to talk openly about any new situations and ease your child into holiday gatherings. To avoid them feeling disoriented, show them around the space.
Another thing you can do to ease them into this new routine is to prepare them for it. Before going to their grandparent’s house, a new restaurant, or any other surprise to their day, inform them. Offer a detailed plan of what to expect.
Parenting tips for festive-filled days
When you become a parent of an autistic child, it can cause you to completely change the way you thought parenting would be. This really rings true for second-time parents.
‘For those that are second-time parents, there may be a huge learning curve as the techniques they’ve utilised to parent their neurotypical child may not work for their child that has an autism diagnosis. This can, at times, leave families feeling hopeless and looking externally for support,’ explained Nandi Nelson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. That said, parents can learn to thrive in caring for their child with autism. Once they discover the techniques that work best, they feel prideful and accomplished to see their son or daughter succeeding in life.
Maybe prior to having a child with sensory issues, the holidays were a breeze. Now, you need to put extra thought into how your days might go. Prepare for these festivities by bringing headphones, avoid crowded and tight spaces, and reduce the number of holiday activities your child might participate in.
It’s important to listen to your child and pick up when they might start feeling overwhelmed. Watch out for queues like aggression, excessive tantrums, unusual bursts of energy, and monitor when the noise becomes too loud.
Combating loneliness as parents
Furthermore, family members can experience overwhelming feelings of their own. Having a child with autism can cause isolation, stress, and a myriad of other feelings. When you’re taking the time to ensure your child is not feeling overwhelmed during potentially stressful times, make sure you also take the time to check in on yourself.
Take breaks as needed and lean on other family members for support. During the holidays you’re surrounded by the people who love and care about you the most. Practice mindfulness and deep breathing because holiday events are sometimes unavoidable. The best thing you can do is to bring comfort to your child and maintain your wellbeing in the midst of what feels like chaos.
The holiday season is stressful for everyone but especially stressful if you’re worried about lessening the sensory overloads your child may face. But, no matter what comes up during this time, remember to slow down and remember what the holidays are about.
If you’re struggling to prepare for these stressful times, need some general parenting guidance, or want extra support for your child with learning disabilities, reach out for the help of a licensed counsellor or therapist. These mental health professionals can help you maintain your own mental wellbeing and also be a helping hand in living with autism.
Madison Bambini is a communications coordinator at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree from VCU in mass communications, focusing on digital journalism and broadcast journalism.