Christmas and New Year’s Day are just around the corner. During this time of year, we are preparing for the holidays by getting gifts ready and planning family gatherings. For many individuals diagnosed with ASD, this can be a tricky time of year because there will be many different stimuli and they may not be sure what to expect. During the holiday season, being proactive by planning in advance will be the key to prepare your learner. If you are planning to have or join family gatherings in-person, here are some tips.
During the planning, it is best to first prime your family member with ASD about the travel plans or about the people that will be visiting the home. In the ABA field, priming is informing a person about how long until an event or activity will occur. In the case for the holidays, it is best to start priming early. However, if the family member has anxiety about anticipated events, you will need to determine how much time they favor to be notified in advance about the events.
In addition to priming, you can include visual supports such as calendars, pictures, and social stories. For one of my learners, he has a whiteboard and a calendar. With the whiteboard, he has his tasks and events written for the week. Before these events are written on the board, the family informs him what will occur for specific days and then write it on the board after. Visual social stories can also be beneficial for your family member with ASD to see and learn what will be expected. These social stories can range from family arriving, family leaving, traveling, decorating, gift giving, unwrapping presents, when feeling overwhelmed, and more. It also helps to roleplay and practice those social stories so they can be prepared for the actual holiday events or activities.
If you are traveling, it is best to bring multiple favorite and familiar items. Have these items readily available to help calm your family member with ASD in stressful situations. During the holiday events, have a calm space prepared and available for them. When creating the calm space, it is best to inform beforehand and practice when they should go to that space.
Remember, you know your family member with ASD best. If there are others within their support system, you will all be the best people to prepare them and others to avoid stress and being overwhelmed.
Before the family gathering, it is best to inform the family you are meeting with about how much your family member with ASD tolerates sensory input as well as their likes and dislikes. Whether or not they favor to be hugged, prefer a calm tone, prefer low volume levels, prefer certain meals, or like to stick to a certain routine. By preparing the rest of the family in advance, they will know how to accommodate the learner’s needs. Preparation is key. For the holiday season, preparing ahead of time can lead to less stressful situations and to more enjoyable memories.
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