ABA therapy

ABA Therapy Tips for Autism-Friendly Holidays

Thanksgiving Day is coming up fast, and many of us are feeling a keen sense of gratitude for all the unique people in our lives. That includes those of us fortunate enough to know and love one of the 2.5 percent of children ages 3 to 17 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. With increasing autism awareness and a growing desire for greater inclusion, our FOCUS ABA therapy team has several tips for hosts to make the next holiday gathering more autism-friendly.

Any good host wants to ensure all guests are safe and comfortable, but may not be certain how to do that when it comes to a child with autism. Go easy on yourself there. The truth is that discovering the complexities of autism in general – let alone the broad variation from one person to the next – can be challenging for parents and therapists too. Puzzlement is totally understandable for someone who doesn’t live with a person on the spectrum or know their routines, triggers, interests or abilities.

If you’re looking for practical ways to be proactive in welcoming a child with autism who will be visiting you this holiday season, consider these few tips from our FOCUS ABA therapy team.

Ask Ahead of Time

This suggestion is key. Talk ahead of time to the child’s parents (or the child, if possible) about how you can help make the festivities more accommodating. It might be helpful for them to arrive earlier than other guests to ease the transition into a different environment with crowds of people.

The parent might ask you to take pictures of different areas of your home to show their child in advance. These visual aids can help the child familiarize themselves with new surroundings, which will make them more comfortable when the time comes to see it in person.

Parents will know what their child needs, and helping to facilitate that in advance – and even just knowing that you want to be as accommodating as possible – can be a huge relief to them as well.

Consider the Menu

This doesn’t mean you have to completely scratch the turkey and stuffing. But it is helpful to understand that sensory aversions to food – the sight, smell and texture of them – can be powerful for a child with autism. FOCUS Therapy offers S.O.S. feeding therapy to help children overcome these aversions to ultimately achieve and maintain a healthy diet. But it takes time and consistency. A dinner like Thanksgiving, though, can be overwhelming – no matter how impeccable your culinary skills.

The best course of action, again, is to ask. Everyone understands that preparing food can be among the most stressful aspects of hosting a holiday gathering. While it might otherwise be considered rude for a guest to bring their own food or ask the host to make something special, beat them to the punch by offering to make the exception before they ask. Your family member will appreciate it, and it’s likely something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich, bananas or extra ketchup.

Offer a Safe Place for Avoiding Sensory Overload

Holiday gatherings can be very overwhelming for a child on the spectrum. New place, new people, new smells, new sounds – and it’s often very loud. If you can offer a space in your home – someplace quiet, with natural lighting, away from the crowd – and show the child/their parents to it ahead of time, this can go a long way toward avoiding meltdowns.

Be Flexible With Your Expectations

As the host, you may feel it’s your responsibility to make sure everything goes perfectly, traditions are observed and everyone has a great time. But being flexible with expectations is a good idea in the general sense, and that’s especially true when it comes to children on the spectrum.

If the child is allowed to set their own pace – for welcoming, for showing affection/appreciation, for eating, for socializing – it will reduce the child’s anxiety, confusion and over-stimulation.

Know that while you may need to make some small changes, they can have a major impact for a child with autism. By simply offering to do that, you show the child and their parents that you care – and the rest of your guests that everyone is welcome.

For more information on Fort Myers ABA therapy at FOCUS or to schedule an appointment, call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Adjusting our family’s Thanksgiving traditions for my son with autism, Nov. 20, 2018, By Kathy Hooven, Autism Speaks

More Blog Entries:

The Deal With Fort Myers ADOS Testing: FOCUS ABA Therapy for Autism Starts With ADOS, Sept. 25, 2019, FOCUS Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

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