Home > Topic of the Week > The Holiday Season is Around the Corner!

The Holiday Season is Around the Corner!

The winter holidays can be a difficult time for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. Challenges can arise from changes in routine, expectations of family and friends, and busy social interactions make unusual demands on everyone.

To make the best of this holiday season, we need to do some planning and preparation. In December, Community Connections  will feature: A Family and Friend’s Guide to the Holiday Season! We will include tips and recommendations for: Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, and Friends.

This week, we invite you to share your experience with others. We would like to hear your questions or concerns and, for those who have learned from past holidays, we want to share recommendations you have for other families to help them prepare for this holiday season. For more information about Family Support go to: www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/family-support-tool-kits

Categories: Topic of the Week
  1. Jessica
    November 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    We are a newly diagnosed family…I say this because both of my kiddos have been diagnosed ASD within the past 4 months. I effects our entire family. We have rough days frequently. I hope to see some good ideas on here about how to handle the Holidays with both my kiddos. My daughter is 3 and is PDD and my son is 6 and is Aspergers with ADHD and Sensory Intergration Disorder. How do I deal with when they are both melting down. Do I leave the situation or work them through it there. People stare and whisper. I hate going places. But I KNOW my kids need to be out and learn to deal with everyday matters.

    • November 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      my son has autistic spectrum disorder and sensory intergration disorder and adhd,we have been abroad lots of times with him he copes ok as long as its not to busy but he does always get sick i think it could be the diffrent smells it always happens when we eat out,he does also refuse to eat the food and will live on mcdonalds or icecream,

    • Tonya
      November 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      Hi, my son turns 8 next week and was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder at 2 and PDD NOS at 6 1/2. The busyness of the holidays can be overwhelming to everyone involved. I know I wanted my son to enjoy Christmas and enjoy running around seeing the decorations, etc. He didn’t. He didn’t hardly notice the tree, etc until about 2 years ago. That’s when he started getting into the excitement of the gifts. Going to visit family can be difficult, too. Lots of noise, extra people, out of routine, etc, etc. We’ve learned to do what’s best for us. Others may not understand that he needs breaks and to go play on the computer or be alone, but it helps him not feel so overwhelmed. If you think your kids can “recover” from their meltdown in a timely manner, you could just take them outside or in a private room/area and give them time to calm down, then rejoin the situation. Sometimes we’ve left when he’s too overwhelmed, but a lot of times he just needs a break. – I agree with Pat that nothing lasts forever. My son has made a LOT of improvements as he’s gotten older. And I’ve learned a lot, too! He’s really helped me appreciate life more and slow down the pace of our busy schedules. Don’t over stress about what others think. Sometimes they’re being rude, but sometimes, they just don’t understand what’s going on. Just enjoy your holiday season with your family:):)

  2. Heather Ludeker
    November 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    We have found the best way to do Christmas for our son with autism is to do it at his pace. So he doesn’t get overwhelmed, we put up the Christmas tree and then wait a few days to put up the Xmas lights around the house. We include him in the family gatherings, etc but it’s his choice to stay with everyone or go to his room. He has to come out and say hello but then he can go to his room if he wants. Christmas gifts are spread out over a few days so it’s not too much at once for him. Pretty much, the whole month of December is Christmas for him. We have done this for years and so far, we usually don’t have any meltdowns or tantrums. We also explain to everyone who comes to visit that the noise level has to be kept down and to let our son come to them instead of them going to him. Most family and friends are more than willing to follow a few rules to help make Christmas enjoyable for everyone. Oh, one more thing, we don’t make our son eat Christmas dinner with everyone. We do a big dinner for family and friends and if he wants to join us, great. If not, that’s ok too. Then we do a smaller, quieter dinner that is just him, his siblings, and parents.

    • Jennifer D.
      November 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      This is basically how we help our son handle the holidays. He has his own special area in my mom’s bedroom when we get together over at his grandparent’s house. He just goes there if the crowd and noise is too much for him. We don’t push him to sit at the table with all of us either…sometimes he just comes gets a bite and then leaves back to his area. His family is also very supportive and understanding, which helps tremendously!

    • Kristen W.
      November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am

      I’ve found that my twin boys (both have ASD) are usually too overwhelmed by the whole room of relatives unwrapping gifts. We try to keep them in the same room, as the family each take turns unwrapping a gift–a long process with nine grandkids. It went better last year, especially when we unwrapped a toy that could be played with while the others took their turns. Meals are also difficult as the boys are so particular about what they will eat. Most of the time my mom & mother-in-law are great about having something the boys will eat on the menu. I highly recommend having that conversation with whomever is hosting the meal. Better yet, I think it would be great to host the get-together at our home where the boys would be most comfortable, but that hasn’t happened yet.

      • Heather Ludeker
        November 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm

        We always host the holiday meals. We have seven kids so it’s easier for everyone to come to us than us try to get 9 people somewhere…especially since we only have one car right now. It makes the holidays so much easier for us as we make sure there is food my son with autism will eat and he can escape to HIS room whenever he needs to.

  3. Jodi
    November 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I have two children, one is on the spectrum, one is not, and I was recently diagnosed with aspergers. Here is my question/concerns. We are a very blessed family, my husband is gainfully employed. Unfortunately, my SILs are not so fortunate. My MIL sets a budget (which is way too high in my opinion) for all the kids, and she buys each child that budget in toys. My son doesn’t really play with toys much (he is 7). The toys he generally wants are inexpensive. We are very specific on the type of toy– no toys that have reactive buttons, because he will stim all day on them. Minimal candy (both my son and I have blood sugar issues) and no candy with food dyes, because my daughter, my son, and myself have issues with food dyes. No one listens to these requests. My MIL and FIL are two of the worst offenders. My MIL will buy my children the budget no matter what. Even though we explain to her that we are blessed and don’t “need” these toys. And if I tell her he likes Legos, she will buy all the Legos that are between X amount and Y amount. Unfortunately, this takes away from ME buying MY children toys. And furthermore, my primary issue with Aspergers is that I don’t have a lot of focus and am easily overwhelmed with tasks. I can’t clean the kids’ toy room, because it’s so full of toys. I can’t even go up there, because I get claustrophobic and overwhelmed. I tried instituting a 1 toy in – 1 toy out policy, but now I’m the horrible daughter-in-law who is throwing away precious childhood memories (well guess what lady– my kids haven’t even opened 3/4 of the toys you bought them in the first place, because it’s JUST TOO MUCH). And my FIL (divorced from MIL) bought 5 POUNDS of candy for EACH child. I know this better than anyone, once you give someone on the spectrum something, you just can’t UNGIVE it. So what do I do? I used to love the holidays, it’s my favorite time of year, but with each successive year of getting $300-400-500 worth of toys that are left in the toyroom unopened and unplayed with, it takes every ounce of joy out of it for my family. And it leaves me feeling like my children aren’t learning that Christmas is about giving, and the magic of Santa Claus is lost on them, because my MIL IS santa claus, and I can’t afford to out-buy her.

    • Jessica
      November 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Jodi….I know how it is. My MIL buys so much for my kiddos…nonsense stuff….clothes they cant wear because of sensory issues. Finally this year I talked her into what my mom has been doing for both Christmas and Birthdays. She takes 1/2 of whatever she is going to spend on them and gets them items they need. Like this yr she got my daughter her baton and Nike shoes for Spinnetts (twirling) and she got my son Under Armor (wears for sensory input)…I do the same thing with toys…I rotate toys…and they get so many from my MIL i take them and use them as rewards. Or make a wishlist at Toys R Us (they have wonderful Autism friendly toys) Hope this helps.

      • Jodi
        November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm

        Thanks… Part of the problem is that this has been escalating for a few years now. And the amount of toys we presently have is of considerable issue– we are a military family and we are over 500 pounds over our weight limit for my husband’s rank. A good portion of our overage is the kid’s toys. My husband has finally said it’s OK to pare down, but it’s just so overwhelming to even begin.

    • Heather Ludeker
      November 16, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      Just a suggestion…I don’t if this would cause you problems or not…but if you have unused toys, some not even opened, why not donate them to toys for tots? Or doesn’t the military have a Xmas thing where people donate new toys for kids that don’t get Xmas gifts? Then you would be less overwhelmed and you would be helping families at the same time. Just a thought! And I just wouldn’t say anything to the MIL about it. I feel once a gift is given, it’s yours to do with as you see fit.

    • Tonya
      November 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      I have MIL issues, too. But, since we’ve been married for 14 years, I’ve had to learn to deal. She is my husband’s mother and my children’s grandmother. In my opinion ( and you can toss it if you’d like;) the grandmother’s role and the parents’ role is different. If she wants to overspend, let her. Just put some up for later. Don’t let it ruin your holidays. You could request that she buy a few things they need, but even if she doesn’t, you can still manage the toys they have out in their room. Maybe you could physically show her how many Legos they have and suggest that this year, they get other toys or books, or even a savings account. Next year, they may need some more toys;) I like the wish list idea, too. – It sounds like she’s trying to overcompensate for some other things. Let it be her stress, not yours. I’m just saying what I’m learning from my own situation. Also, let your kids tell you their #1 gift choice and let that be from you and Dad. She can provide the fillers. :)

  4. November 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    my son has autistic spectrum disorder with adhd and sensory intergration disorder,and since he stated in year 3 he has been sucking his hands so bad he wets everything was wondering if enyone else has had that problem with their child ,my son does suffer with high anxiety and is in a class with 32 children he also puts his fist right in his mouth,he is 8 years old and this is getting worse he wets everything he touches and does it constantly even when he is sleeping he has his fingers in his mouth,he has been so badly constipated as well that he has been in lots of pain,i im so worried he isnt coping in school he is very bright above averge for his age,

    • Kristen W.
      November 16, 2011 at 9:49 am

      My son went through a lot of chewing/sucking about a year ago, and we found that chewy tubes worked well for him. You can find them and other oral sensory objects online at different therapy shops. They also make bracelets and pencil toppers that can be chewed on. I’m not sure if it will help your little guy, but it might be worth a try.

  5. tanya
    November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    i have one child with autisim and another that developementally delayed he also has congitive issues.and behaviour issues on top of that.this yr and every yr so far i have put up my fake tree and my lights two weeks before christmas my kids love that time of yr with the pretty lights and the music.they make me little decorations from school and i hang them up.they love it when i sing to them and spend some time.thats one thing my fiance to work on with the oldest child.they need quality time.

  6. Pat
    November 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    @debi -Not easy regarding the melt downs and sensory issues. My son who just turned 7 has Aspergers and the best thing I can do is distract him when he starts to “lose it” – My iphone has been a life saver. We use lego pieces as a reward system – he gets pieces when he eats, dresses himself, brushes his teeth etc. So far it was worked really well. He has out grown many worrisome behaviors so, nothing lasts forever, though sometimes it feels like it will. Maybe give him a reward for not putting his fingers in his mouth for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes…..Make it a game if possible. I also have problems with constipation as he has such a limited diet due to his ADHD medications (which has made the biggest difference in his behavior and self esteem) – sometimes I need to give him Miralac (sp) if I notice that he is not regular as he will not tell me. Your son has an IEP and special accomodations at school – right?

  7. Penny Hall
    November 16, 2011 at 3:39 am

    My daughter has ASD, she is 27 and lives in a group home often she reminds me of what is really important in life and she did something the other day that just made me smile. She came home for a visit and we were shopping and this Christmas song came on and she started singing and dancing I looked at her and she didn’t care who was watching she was just smiling and singing so I decided I didn’t care who was looking either and joined in, soon others around us were looking at her and smiling. I decided a long time ago not to worry about the staring or comments like that day in the store I would just go with whatever feels good. Sometimes a little song and dance is all you have and sometimes it is all you need.

  8. November 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    My son, Daniel, enjoys the tree. We always have the tree up and watch the lights at night. He feels pressure opening presents. We don’t make him open presents if he doesn’t want to do it. If we have something for him we think he will really enjoy, we either don’t wrap it or start to unwrap it for him. When we visited family at the holidays when he was young we allowed him to play at the periphery of the group until he was ready to join in. It took him a few years to get used to the extended family but eventually he did. Take familiar toys to play with and some new ones as distractors. We allowed him to eat before the group did or at a separate table. Now we give him N-MET to help him with the sensory overload.

  9. jeanne
    November 21, 2011 at 9:43 am

    My son has aspergers. He is very very high functioning. We dont put the tree up till the week before christmas…it is too overwhelming to him. Also we do a “plan of attack” for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas. We tell him what might happen and make a plan so that the problem wont get that bad…Also I am lucky that he is a very safe kid…he wont walk off. So one of the options he always has is to go outside and play. Once we make the “Plan of attack” I let the family know so when my son utilizes his plan they know to leave him alone…the only problem we have now is when his younger cousin sees my son go and hides behind grandmas bed to calm down, she thinks he wants to play hide and seek.

  10. November 21, 2011 at 10:56 am

    My daughter, 7, has PDD-NOS and we have learned to navigate the holidays by resting and avoiding over-stimulating places and homes. Our new challenge is her recent diagnosis with celiac disease, so not only do we now have to watch out for bright lights and loud music, we now have to avoid gluten. Anyone have suggestions?

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