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Autism and the Holiday Season

Here are some holiday pointers for children who have autism:

Take some time off- this includes your child on the spectrum! Let your child have some 'down time,' engaging in preferred activities. Everybody needs a break now and then! Give yourself a break too- you can't do therapy and intervention all the time. Breaks give us parents some much needed R and R, and allow us to do the hard work of parenting once the holiday is over.

Try not to change routines or overschedule activities  over the holidays. One new person or activity per day is a good rule. If you must change the routine, try to give some advance warning about the change. Add the activity to a calendar or visual schedule.

If you are going to try a new activity such as going to the Christmas tree farm to get a tree, 'frontload' your child by reading a learning story about the activity. You can also try to visit a location in advance to let your child know what the environment looks like and what you will be doing there, or visit a website to see photos of the site. Knowing what to expect calms anxiety and may reduce the likelihood of 'glitches.'

Social scripts about how to react and respond in common holiday social situations  (for example, when someone gives you a gift, you open it and it wasn't what you wanted). Information about what to say (and not to say) in certain situations can avoid embarrassing social mistakes and misunderstandings.

Let family members know which situations are hard for your child. If noisy, crowded environments are too overwhelming, it's okay to say no, even if Auntie wants to take your child to the mall to see Santa. Come to think of it, Santa can be a little scary and overwhelming too. It's okay to say no if you think your child won't manage well.  It may help to explain the reason why you don't think the activity will be successful. Maybe there is another way relatives can see your child without it being too overwhelming.  Coming earlier or later to events can also reduce the stress in family visits or events. Taking a break during an event is fine too.

Wishing everyone a safe, happy and relaxing holiday season from Next Step Autism Program.

Working on Intervention Goals at Home

Parents often ask what they can do at home to work on their child's early intervention goals. Here at Next Step Autism Program, we ask parents to identify their priorities for their child's intervention program. Together we can then look for activities at home where these priority goals can be addressed. Since young children spend more time at home with their families than anywhere else, these activities provide many more opportunities to embed teaching trials into a child's daily routine.

For example, a child may have the communication goal of requesting items or 'manding' using single words. This child's parents may have identified communication skills as a priority. So, we can brainstorm with family to see when and how teaching trials can occur at home. Mealtime is one regular activity that can provide many opportunities to request, and we can teach parents ways to work on requesting skills at that time.  When families combine teaching at home with sessions at our Centres, skills are learned more quickly, may be retained longer and are used in a greater range of situations as a result. It's a win-win!

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