Think Ahead and Establish New Traditions
Plan how you can meet your family’s needs and set realistic expectations. Forgive yourself if the holiday is not “perfect,” and traditional. Modify celebrations to accommodate to your family’s needs. You may have to adapt your home, menu, schedule and family traditions in order to make a comfortable environment for your grandchild with autism. Afterwards, no one will remember what was on the table. They will remember who was at the table and how much they enjoyed being together.
A Family Affair
Notify family members that your grandchild may require extra help or vigilance. They can help to provide a safer environment for everyone. Plan family activities such as cookie decorating, Bingo, singing, sidewalk chalk play, bubbles, games or other activities where everyone, young and old, may participate together.
Prepare Your Grandchild for Special Occasions
Prepare children for new experiences or family celebrations well in advance, by frequently describing the details of the upcoming event. It will relieve anxieties and the children will know what behavior is appropriate for the occasion. Practice introductions and other social behaviors he may encounter before the holidays.
Use Social Stories and Schedules
Write or prepare a visual schedule of activities before the event so your grandchild can anticipate the sequence of events. Use drawings, cut out pictures or download them from the internet to help them understand what to expect. Discuss the schedule many times before the event.
Introduce Special Foods Before the Holiday
Sample holiday foods months or weeks ahead during snack times. Watch cooking shows and prepare some of the special recipes together. If eating habits or special diets are a concern, eat before leaving home or bring special foods with you.
Teach Your Grandchild Not to Touch things
Practice manners before the holidays and explain about the social behaviors that they will encounter. To help prevent touching or pulling off ornaments from the family Christmas tree, provide your grandchild with a “personal” miniature tree with simple decorations that is safe for play.
Communicate with FaceTime or Skype
Visit frequently with out-of-town relatives so children can utilize the Internet to develop relationships with family members who live at a distance. Prepare your grandchild with a special a video visit before the holidays, if possible. Sharing family picture albums before the holidays is also helpful.
Visit stores, Santa or holiday displays at times when they are not crowded.
Consider enjoying Santa or the sites as a “drive by” experience first because that can be less threatening than actually going there. If possible, gradually increase the time you spend shopping together until the child becomes comfortable with the routine and environment. Be sure to give small rewards for good behavior like staying close to you.
Plan to Attend Smaller Parties
Simplify. Do not overstay, it may cause problems for the child and others. Ask the party host to remove breakables from reach. If possible, drive in two cars so that your grandchild can leave early if they feel distressed. Put the needs of the child – and his parents – first.
Pack Special Food and Treats
If your grandchild has dietary limitations or needs, be sure to bring the food with you when you are invited out.
Bring a Favorite Quiet Toys
Pack a favorite video game, activity, music or stuffed animal for the child. Headphones or earplugs may also be helpful to moderate noise and activity levels around the child. If your grandchild has sensory issues with sounds, consider getting him noise cancelling headphones.
Plan an Alternative Activity
Prepare an area for respite time, away from the other guests. Have a favorite activity ready such as music, crayons, puzzles or other quiet activities available.
Prepare and Reward Children Who are Inclusive
Prepare typical children who are guests about your grandchild’s special needs. Plan games and activities that will be inclusive. Reinforce their good behavior with special treats and compliments.