4 Tips To Help Family Accommodate Your Neurodivergent Child Over the Holidays

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and family gatherings. Yet, if you have a child with autism, these occasions can also bring unique challenges. There is an abundance of sensory stimulation, a near-constant shift in routine, and people you haven’t seen in a year. 

As parents, we tend to shoulder most of the burden when it comes to our children. With holidays approaching, you may find yourself with increasing nerves about holiday festivities, all the while preparing your autistic child the best you can. 

We understand the importance of creating a supportive environment for your child. It’s so important, in fact, that it doesn’t all need to fall on the parent. As you prepare this holiday season, here are some tips to get your family members involved in accommodating your child when outside the home.

  1. Educate Your Family On Your Child’s Needs

The first step in creating a supportive environment is to share with your relatives what your child’s typical needs are, as well as their strengths. Explain how certain behaviors are part of their autism diagnosis, not just quirks or intentional acts. This understanding can foster empathy and patience, helping your family to interact more positively and meaningfully with your child.

Some ways to further educate family members are:

  • Sharing articles that align to your child’s presentation of autism.
  • Discussing the common misconceptions about autism and clarifying them.
  • Encouraging family members to ask questions.
  1. Request A Safe Space At Events

Family gatherings can be overwhelming, especially for children who may have sensory sensitivities or need a quiet space. Talk to the hosts in advance about setting up a designated quiet area where your child can retreat to if things get too intense. This safe space should be a calm, comfortable spot, away from the hustle and bustle of the main event. Let the family members know about your purpose for this space and its importance to your child, ensuring it’s respected during the event.

For your safe space, if you are able, include comforting items such as your child’s favorite toys, fidget toys, or a weighted blanket to create a sense of security and calm. Position the area away from loud music and bright lights to minimize sensory overload. This brief period of time away from the stimuli can make a world of difference.

  1. Give Them Ways To Connect With Your Child

Connection is key in fostering meaningful interactions. Before an event with lots of family members, share with your family your child’s current special interests, if there is one. For example, if your child loves a particular book series and is comfortable talking about it, let your family know. This information can help them engage with your child on a more personal and meaningful level.

In addition, share with them your child’s preferred communication style. This may include the use of an AAC device, writing over talking, or simpler, more direct language. Understanding how your child communicates will help family members interact in a way that is both comfortable and effective for your child.

  1. Share Your Plan With Them Ahead Of Time

Inform your family about any specific plans you have to accommodate your child’s needs, like bringing their own food to make them more comfortable, or avoiding certain triggers like turning down the music. Let the hosts know you may have to leave suddenly if the event becomes too overwhelming. This heads-up will inform them it is not because they did anything to upset you, but because this is what your child needs. 

Remember, the goal is not just to survive the holidays, but to enjoy them. By taking these steps to get your family involved, you’re setting the stage for a more inclusive and joyful holiday experience. You are not only supporting your child but also enriching the holiday experience for everyone involved.

For more information on ways to prepare your child for potentially overwhelming events, or to learn strategies that work with your child on the autism spectrum, reach out here.