Holidays with a child with autism

1 Apr

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and last week began Passover. But religious or not, if you have a child with autism yourself, or one in your family, sooner or later, you will have to deal with holidays and how to make them better for a child with autism or at least survivable for everyone.

This past weekend my family was invited to a Breakfast with the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg Hunt. Last year, the Princess had an egg hunt at school with kindergarten and first grade classes which was great except she opened eggs and dropped candy on the ground and took eggs out of other children’s baskets.

We did the breakfast the entire family, and it was great. The pictures with the Easter Bunny, well, not quite as expected. The Princess was scared of the man in the bunny costume. The Duke and the Earl were also less than enthusiastic, which proves something I’ve believed for a very long time, the Easter Bunny is all kinds of creepy. But anyways, when I explained to the photographer why the Princess and I were hanging back, he was immediately empathetic. He was kind and went above and beyond to explain that we could do things at her pace and also take a picture of just her with the Easter egg border if we would like. His exact words, “we can accommodate.” That was a definite high point of this holiday weekend.

The egg hunt only the Duke and the Earl attended. The King later told me that although he wanted the Princess to take part, he was glad I vetoed the idea because the sheer number of people was more than she could handle. He felt overwhelmed by it. Even outdoors it was crazy. And it was done in a park on the InterCoastal Waterway. And if you aren’t aware yet, water is a very common attraction for individuals with autism, it’s often said if a child with autism goes missing, check the water first. The Princess, in general, does not wander, but she has a magnetic interest in water for sure.

But in moving toward acceptance, many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles etc want a child to have similar experiences to what they did growing up and events like an egg hunt, trick-or-treating, sedar meal, or anything else holiday ritualistic CAN be done. Here are some tips if you want to attempt an activity and never have before or are very nervous by the prospect. They don’t guarantee success but are worth a shot!

1. Practice! Have your child do a mini-egg hunt in the back-yard a few times ahead of time. If you can recruit typically developing kids to join you, absolutely do. Same with something like trick-or-treating, ask neighbors or family members who are sympathetic and practice wearing a costume, walking up to a house, ringing the doorbell etc. It truly can make it easier than just throwing the child into a new experience at the actual event.

2. Set expectations that are realistic for  you and your child. Don’t let it enter into your head that it will be a meltdown free day, if it is, great. But don’t expect it. Many parents bring business like cards to hand to other parents and kids in case of an “event” big or small. Also, in setting those expectations, be honest with your child. “Mama doesn’t know how many people there will be here today, there may be lots and lots,” is better than “the crowd last year was 20 so… .” Realize that if something does end up happening, it may not be your most stellar parenting moment dealing with it and that’s okay. Cut yourself some slack.

3. Prepare any guests or family members in advance if you can of how you plan to handle any situations if they arise. If you feel you may need to leave suddenly if things get out of hand, let people know you’ll need the car keys or help with removing your child. Nothing is worse than people dispersing, your child having a meltdown, and you have no help and no way to beat a hasty retreat.

4. Try to limit your total activity time. Remember social interactions can be VERY taxing for  your child. If he or she is expected to sit long periods of time (think a church service or sedar) without any of his or her comfort things, realize you may not be able to go through the entire event. Or for events like trick-or-treating, limit to the houses on your street or five houses then we can go home. It will allow you to have the experience but not stress your child out.

5. Make your own. For many parents there are just too many unknown variables to take their child to a holiday celebration.  And this can be especially true for parents of children on a special diet. Sometimes it is just best to create your own. We have friends who host “autism-friendly” gatherings of parents and kids to celebrate various holidays and it is nice to be around other families who “get it” and aren’t offended if you have to leave suddenly or your child has a meltdown. And sometimes it may need to just be your child and your family. That’s okay too. I have to remind myself even when it comes to the The Duke and The Earl that it’s their childhood, it doesn’t have to be a re-creation of mine.

What are some tips you have learned from holidays and your little bit of autism royalty?



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