Autism and the holidays – Tips for a merry season


By Mary Rosswurm

The holidays are an exciting time of year for all, but, in many ways, can be challenging for those with autism and their families. The colorful lights, large family gatherings, festive music, unusual foods and crowds can cause individuals with autism to feel anxious and overwhelmed.

As a parent of a child with autism, I’ve learned over the years not to put too much pressure on my son, Brad, over the holidays. I know what he can tolerate and what he can’t and I want him to enjoy the season, too.

As you plan your holiday activities with your children, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

  • If you are attending a holiday party, contact the host in advance about your child’s needs. Ask for a quiet room in case your son or daughter needs time away from the festivities. Also, inform the host that you may bring specific toys that your child may not want to share with others. Ask the host to assist in helping other children in attendance respect your child’s choice not to share his or her favorite items.
  • Create a gift list to share with friends and family. This eliminates the guesswork from those who aren’t sure what item your child will enjoy. Many children, teens and young adults with ASD have specific preferences, so helping others with a detailed gift list will be much appreciated.
  • Be realistic. Don’t put too many demands on yourself or your child. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the activities, shopping and get-togethers of the season. But, remember, this holiday is supposed to be a fun and relaxing time for you and your family as well. Don’t stress out about things that really don’t matter – it’s OK if you don’t get your house covered in lights! Keep in mind what your family can handle. Decide early on which events to attend, and plan accordingly. Fun family time trumps all!
  • A final reminder – Now is not the time to begin to teach new skills. While it may be a goal to eventually get your child with ASD to participate in family holiday events, they are not the time to teach the new skills. Let your child’s service provider know that you are interested in having these skills worked on during the year so when next year comes around, your child and his team will be ready!

Mary Rosswurm is executive director at Little Star Center, Indiana’s first ABA center.