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Holidays are great. You get to see people you haven’t seen in a while, there is usually food and drinks, and depending on the holiday, there are even fireworks! To a normal kid, this sounds like a fantastic day! However, to an autistic child, this day could be uncomfortable and full of anguish.
Adventures in Autism is a show about our experiences with our son, Seth, diagnosed with Severe Autism at the age of 3. It has been a difficult journey, but an adventure nonetheless.
Each week, we will bring you a different topic and how it relates to a child with autism. Topics will include things like siblings, favorite foods, toys that work (and ones that don’t!), schooling, emotions and more.
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Holidays are great. You get to see people you haven’t seen in a while, there is usually food and drinks, and depending on the holiday, there are even fireworks! To a normal kid, this sounds like a fantastic day! However, to an autistic child, this day could be uncomfortable and full of anguish. Here are things to first consider:
- Unfamiliar places: Unless you are holding this event at your home, or in a home the child has been to often, going somewhere else can be scary and stressfull. Alert the child days ahead (as soon as your plans are made with constant reminders) that you will be going somewhere else for the holiday. When you first arrive, walk around the place with the child so they get familiar with it, and if there are rooms off limits explain it to them now.
- Crowds: If this event will be spent with more than your normal household, it can be intimidating for an autistic child, especially if they have not met a few of them, or if they have memory issues and forget them. Briefing them beforehand on who is planning on being there is a good idea, so that they are prepared with the idea of guests, new and familiar. Depending on the size of the crowd, having a place where the autistic child can go to be quiet, or just plain alone and away from the crowd, is a good idea (this is not to say do not supervise).
- Pets: As in our last episode, if the place has a pet the child is unfamiliar with, it could cause stress and fear. Make sure the owners are willing to lock up or put in a different room the pet in order for the autistic child to be more relaxed, especially if the home is unfamiliar as well.
- Food: Unless you will be having food you know the child will like, you may need to be prepared to bring food from home for the child to eat, or even bring comfort snacks. Also be prepared that even if the food that is prepared is food the child likes, they may not eat/like it because it is not the food they are used to. If your child is picky, be prepared to accomedate.
- Outdoors: Being outdoors is drastically different than being indoors. Take into effect that bugs, wildlife, fauna, smells, sights, and textures that are outside and unfamiliar may stress out a child. If bugs annoy the child, and yet bug spray annoys them, dress them in long pants and shirts and have them wear a hat to limit the bug spray and so they can enjoy the outdoors.
- Other kids: If there are other kids, wheither they are familiar or unfamiliar, can drastically change how your autistic child takes this holiday. If the kids are friendly, understanding of the autistic ones needs, and willingy to accomedate for them, then your child will take the day much better than if the kids are mean, not understanding of the autistic ones needs, and seclude the autistic one from the rest of them. Ask the ither parents to ahead of time give word to their kids about your child so that they can be more understanding and helpful to your child.
- Fireworks and bondfires: Depending on your child, these sights, sounds, smells will either please or displease them. Be prepared with the idea that your child may not want to be around these things, and either stay inside or go home when these events start. Try to be as accomedating as you can. If your child is already frustrated and stressed out before the fireworks start, and fireworks stress them out, be prepared to go home early. If your child DOES enjoy these things, be sure to supervise them at all times for not only their safety, but also to be sure something doesn’t happen and their attitudes radically change.
Unless your child loves big crowds, I would recommend you stick to as small as a crowd as you can, or just your immediate family, when celebrating these holidays.