The members of GAN’s Board of Directors and Advisory Board wish you healthy, happy holidays – and good health and peace in the New Year! This holiday issue has suggestions to make family gatherings more comfortable and fun for everyone
Holiday Home Tips
- Prior to hosting, explain to your guests (especially children) that you may need to change some traditions to accommodate to your grandchild’s special needs.
- Ask your grandchild’s parents if there are special dietary needs and, if there are, ask them to bring your grandchild’s meal.
- Ask parents if they have noise cancellation earphones or ear plugs in case they are needed.
- Set up a quiet area for your grandchild with a favorite toy, in case they need to have some respite time.
Here are hints to make your home safe and inviting for your guests:
- Limit access to any potentially dangerous areas
- Avoid using scents, candles and flashing lights
- Consider installing safety locks on kitchen, laundry room and bathroom cabinets
- Cover electrical outlets and control access to electrical cords and appliances
- Install gates/barriers to prevent falling down stairs and move furniture away from shelves or where a child might climb
- If your grandchild has anxiety about receiving gifts, ask their parents for suggestions or shop together online before the holiday so they can anticipate what they will be receiving
- Wrap gifts very simply in bags with a little tissue paper. Noisy foil wraps and tape can increase frustration in opening gifts
- If there are many presents, save some to open at a later time to prevent overwhelming your grandchild
- If your grandchild is subject to “eloping” (wandering away), install alarms or locks on windows and exterior doors
- If you plan to leave home together, pin identification information and your contact information in their pocket or on their clothing
- Place a tracking device securely around your grandchild’s neck, in their pocket, or pinned on their clothing. (These devices make great gifts!)
- Take a picture of your grandchild before departing so you can describe their appearance if they get lost
How to Make the Holidays a More Joyful
for Children and Adults with Autism
by Jeremy and Ilana Hamburgh
As the founders of My Best Social Life, we are friendship and dating coaches for autistic adults. We teach them strategies and social skills to make friends and even encourage them to start dating. Navigating holiday gatherings can be difficult for all family members. As a grandparent, you want to have your loved ones with you, and you want it to be a warm and positive experience for everyone. Understanding your grandchild’s sensory triggers can help you to avoid them. Here are some of the reasons why people with autism may struggle at family gatherings and what you can do to help them:
Problem: The Unknown
Many thrive on repetition and routine and holiday gatherings are the opposite of that! Lots of people, bright or flickering lights, loud sounds and unfamiliar smells may increase levels of stress and anxiety.
Solution: Share the Plan Ahead of Time
Let your grandchild know the plans before the gathering, so they know what to expect and can anticipate them. Start with the basics:
- Who will be there
- What sensory inputs: lights, sounds, fragrances, holiday foods
- When the gathering will be beginning and ending
- Where it will take place
- Why some traditions may be upsetting and how to avoid them
Problem: Social Expectations
Your grandchild may feel like they are expected to talk to people. That expectation may be self-imposed or it might be explicitly expressed by a loved one. Either way, they are going into the family gathering knowing that there’s a big gap between what they are comfortable with and what is expected of them – and that creates its own anxiety.
Solution: Express Support for Their Own Expectations
Prior to the event, explain to your guests that your grandchild has special needs that may require some changes to holiday traditions. Modify activities to accommodate to everyone’s comfort level.
It can be reassuring to your grandchild if you empathize with their social discomfort and let them know that you are supportive of them, regardless of how much they interact with other family members. Reducing that performance pressure can put them more at ease, which may make them more willing to be engaged.
Problem: Sensory Overload
Many autistic adults are sensitive to and may be overwhelmed by loud music and chatter. Bright lights and even strong smells can also trigger anxiety. When a person’s brain is overwhelmed, it will be difficult for them to relax.
Solution: Be Sensory Conscious – Provide a Quiet Space
if you know that your grandchild gets overwhelmed in a loud environment, keep the music volume low or avoid playing music. Set aside a quiet place for your grandchild to relax and recharge – and tell them in advance that it’s okay for them to use that space.
If you have questions about how to make your family gathering autism friendly or want to discuss how we can assist your grandchild in navigating social situations, email to Jeremy-at-MyBestSocialLife.com. Everyone deserves to feel a spark of connection – and we are happy to explore how we can help.
Holiday Gift Shopping
- Special Needs Toys: Walmart provides 1000+ toy options for individuals with special needs such as toys for stress relief and crafts you can do together
- Adaptive clothing, backpacks, and accessories for children and adults are also available. You can search for different price ranges and order in store or online:
- Adaptive Apparel
- Adaptive Backpacks
- Adaptive Accessories
- Cat & Jack: This clothing line is for children with sensory sensitivities and for those with medical devices. You can order them online or pick them up in-store.
- Sensory Toys: Target offers over 5000+ toy options for your grandchildren. You may choose the filter option to locate the appropriate age range for your grandchild. In addition, you may order online or pick up in-store.
- If possible, shop online with your grandchild or ask for the list of gifts they would like to receive. Surprise gifts are not always well received.
- Fat Brain Toys: This company offers toys for individuals of all ages, from babies to seniors. It also provides a list of sensory friendly products depending on the specific special need here.
- Sensory Education Toys: This site offers indoor and outdoor toys for specific areas of development
- Jet Proof: Jet Proof has a clothing line that is smooth and calming for children and adults. The company also offers bedding and towels. They have 10+ years of experience and are multi-award winners.
- Adaptive Denim Brand: seven7jeans.com
- Adaptive Shoe Options: Zappos.com
- Search Google for additional “adaptive clothing” options
Go to GANinfo.org for gift suggestions for every budget, for children, teens and adults and gifts for all occasions
Whether it’s time spent on arts and crafts, baking or watching movies, here are some suggestions your family may enjoy doing together
Christmas Crafts and Activities to Share
Holiday Baking Recipes
- Sprinkle Stocking Cookies
- Reindeer Brownies
- Reindeer Pops
- Santa Claus Cookies
- Snowflake Marshmallows
- Snowman Ornament Popcorn Ball
- Craft a Chanukah play date kit
- Make a DIY Chanukah sensory bin
- Assemble a Chanukah silhouette
- Create a Chanukah snowglobe
For more craft activities and baking recipes for Chanukah, please refer to care.com
Sensory Friendly Movie Theaters
AMC Films: AMC currently partners with Autism Society to accommodate those with special needs. Their Sensory Friendly Film program is available on the Saturday of the second and fourth (family friendly) and Wednesday evenings (mature).
Regal (My Way Matinee): Regal also provides a sensory friendly experience. Their website showcases upcoming films and available theaters.
Fleet Science Center, San Diego CA: On the third Saturday of each month, the center offers quieter explorations and a “cooling-off” space. Check to see if museums and centers in your community offer comparable days.
MOXI Wolf Museum of Exploration & Innovation, Santa Barbara CA: This museum presents a hands-on STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math) exhibit. They provide a sensory-friendly app so that visitors can preview the attraction and also borrow a sensory backpack kit.
DisabledHolidays.com: This website offers a series of hotels and cruises that best accommodate any disability. World-wide locations are listed.
Additional travel destination are found on GANinfo.org.
Not Together for the Holidays?
We recommend families use the applications Zoom or Facetime for grandparents who cannot be with their grandkids for the holiday season. With Zoom, you can video chat, and call your family from your computer, phone, ipad or other tablet device. Learn how you can meet together on Apple devices with Facetime or how to access others from an Android or Windows device here.