Do you feel an increase in your overall stress levels as the holidays approach? If so, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association’s press release on Holiday Stress:
“The hustle and bustle of the holidays has psychological consequences …. More people are inclined to feel that their stress increases, rather than decreases, around the holidays.”
Given that the holidays involve extra tasks, travel, and responsibility for you as a parent, it’s understandable if additional stress arises. And when your anxiety increases, it becomes more difficult to support your child in his or her ABA progress.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered a few key ABA therapy tips to keep you going this season.
Keep certain key routines consistent, especially ABA sessions.
The holidays are a time of general scheduling upheaval. You probably won’t stay with all of your usual routines, and that’s to be expected. However, you can make a point of keeping up select daily rituals.
If possible, ask your child which routines he or she would prefer to keep in place during this time. Perhaps they’ll want to continue having alone time in the afternoon, or watching a favorite TV show in the morning. Letting them help with schedule while help ease the transition into more hectic holiday times.
Also, while it’s necessary to let go of some structure during the holidays, it’s also important to make time for regular ABA practice sessions. Look at your calendar and plan ahead to see where you’ll make room for therapy, either with a clinician or at home.
With this pattern in place, your child will maintain their hard-won skill sets. This will also help ease the transition back into a regular therapy schedule in the new year too. Plus, consistent ABA sessions facilitate a sense of steadiness within the holiday chaos.
As always, be sure to affirm your child in their ABA work. Deliver consistent reinforcement for a job well done.
Practice seasonal stories.
You can create, download, or print social stories for common holiday scenarios such as a big family meal, opening presents, visiting with Santa, and more.
As we wrote in our post 3 tools for creating social stories and visual schedules for students with autism:
“These tools help students with autism by presenting necessary information in a clear, understandable way. They render abstract concepts concrete, allowing students to focus more easily. They also break down complex tasks into single steps, thereby reducing feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.”
Prepare your extended family for time with your child, and vice-versa.
If you’re going to see relatives you only meet once a year, it might be worth sending a quick email or having a short conversation on how to connect with your child. Mention his or her key interests or favorite subjects. Also, note subjects or situations to avoid and what calms him or her down.
It’s likely that family members would love to bond with your child, but uncertainty holds them back. The older generation in particular may not have had any experience interacting with children on the spectrum, given the sad legacy of institutionalization of people with developmental disabilities.
So take a few minutes to gently offer your wisdom; they’ll appreciate the guidance.
Another ABA therapy tip: Refresh your child’s memory of relatives’ names and faces. Together, you can look at pictures of family and practice identifying key people as the holidays draw near. This helps to alleviate stress and create familiarity, so your child won’t feel that there are ‘strangers’ in the house.
Prepare for specific events and social scenarios.
As Miguel De Cervantes once said, “To be prepared is half the victory.” If you know that you’ll be attending a large family dinner or a public party, consider how your child might react.
If you’re concerned about a particular event, explore different resources and troubleshoot stressors in advance. If you’re worried about:
- Dining out at a restaurant – Autism Speaks offers a guide on Going Out to Eat.
- Going to a party – We’ve published a post on How to handle a meltdown during a party.
- Trying new seasonal dishes – The Lowcountry Autism Consortium offers a post on How to Introduce New Foods.
- Flying on a plane – Check out The Huffington Post piece Top 10 Tips for Flying with Special Needs Children, and see if Wings for Autismoffers an airport “rehearsal” near you.
- General public outings and travel – We’ve published a post on What to do when your child has a meltdown in public, and Autism Speaks offers myriad Traveling Tips for Individuals with Autism and their Families.
One general social skill to review for all of the above scenarios? The art of the positive greeting. First impressions are important, as they set the tone for interactions. Polite personal greetings are one of the most important social skills to practice with all children.
Decide on your top priorities.
Make a list of all the rules that you enforce at home. Then, decide on your top priorities for your child when you’re traveling or welcoming holiday guests. You won’t be able to maintain everything, so pick your battles and be ready to make trade-offs.
For example, is it okay if your child deviates from her usual eating habits to enjoy a few candies and cookies? Perhaps that’s an appropriate choice for the holiday, or maybe it’s a no-go because extra sugar reliably sends her into a behavioral tailspin.
Likewise, is it all right for your child to stay up past his bedtime to watch a Christmas movie? Or is that not worth it, because he struggles mightily with insomnia and lack of sleep?
As you make your decisions, remember that your child is unique, and that what works for one family may not work for another. You know what works best for your family.
If you know that your child has a really hard time falling asleep if he stays up late (and then has trouble managing his behavior the next day), then make choices to protect the bedtime boundary.
Know that you can always compromise, perhaps offering to let him watch the movie in the morning instead. It’s just a matter of knowing where to draw lines to protect your child’s ability to self-regulate.
Take good care of yourself.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help in order to honor the basics of your own self-care.
- If you’re struggling with overwhelm, let some tasks go.
- If you’re exhausted, take a nap when you can or go to bed early.
- If you’re feeling frayed and impatient, take pause for deep breathingor a cup of hot tea.
You have permission to be human. And when you take good care of yourself, you are empowered to love and parent your child well.