Supporting Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder During the Holidays

An expert from BlueSprig Pediatrics explains how to support people across the spectrum around the holidays.

AUSTIN, Texas – For families with children Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) the holidays can be a complicated time. For many, the idea of ​​gathering with friends and family is exciting, but they may be concerned about whether the gatherings will be comfortable for their ASD child.

Deborah LedermanMA, BCBA, LBA, Director at BlueSprig Pediatric Center in North Austin, says BlueSprig, professionals teach children communication skills and adaptive life skills so they can lead more independent lives.

“We do all of this with real compassion and we’ve customized each client’s program to meet their needs. Everything we do is evidence-based, which is pretty cool,” Lederman said.

If you’re hosting a party this holiday season where you know a child with ASD will be present, there are a few things you can do to make sure they’re comfortable. Lederman said because every child is different, first ask the family if they have any feedback or advice for you and your congregation.

“You can send photos of your house in advance and maybe even some of the guests who are coming to show the child, that way they are prepared for what they’re getting into, what they’re going to see. Anything that involves getting out of the routine can be a bit of a challenge for children with autism. So it’s really helpful to give them the most information upfront about what they’re going to experience,” Lederman said.

Another idea is to ask if the child has any sensory needs, as loud music can be overwhelming at times. Plus, bright Christmas lights could also be overwhelming, so dimming the lights could really help.

“Ask parents to bring favorite toys for their child to keep them busy. Another good idea is, if the environment is too stimulating, maybe designate a room in your house as a cool-down and rest room so that the child can do if they need a break, they can go into that room and hang out instead,” Lederman said.

Some activity experts suggest that children with ASD might like artificial snow or sensory bottles. With sensory bottles, you can use different types of holiday-themed glitter for them to look at and thus enjoy. If your household wants to make it more convenient to accommodate children with ASD, don’t be afraid to ask their parents to babysit either.

“Another great idea is to ask if you can babysit the child with autism so the family can go out and get Christmas presents because sometimes having a little extra childcare during this time can be really, really helpful,” he said Lederman.

Autism spectrum is a very broad spectrum. It is currently categorized into three levels: level one, level two and level three. Level three includes children who are most affected, usually with less communication. Stage one is the kids who may just need more social skills.

“Always say hello to all families during the holidays. It’s just so important to be inclusive. So even if a family declines your invitation this year, try next year and just do whatever you can to help families with children with ASD feel welcome in their communities,” Lederman said.

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Laura Coffey

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