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December 2012 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Special Needs / Autism

Season for sharing

Preparing your special needs children for the holiday season

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Yes, it’s true, Halloween has crept up and slithered away. The stores will be bypassing Thanksgiving and zooming towards Christmas before we know it! For those of us who share our lives with someone who has autism spectrum disorder or another special need, we know the feelings of experiencing the haunts of Halloween months before autumn arrives and hours spent listening to Christmas carols while we still don shorts. Aah, the anticipation of it all.

For many, this idea of happy holiday happenings can quickly turn into too much too soon and lead to a downward spiral. Here are some simple strategies that may ease the overwhelming excitement and allow families to celebrate holidays in a timely, successive order.

• Using a calendar works for many reasons. Some include appointments and birthdays, but they also list unwritten social rules. This may mean what others generally speak about during special times of the year and what activities people partake in. For example, in October, I may write at the top of the calendar page: “People decorate their homes with pumpkins. Maybe we can visit a farm and pick apples. People talk about baking, eating pies, and pumpkin bread. We can watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and scary movies like (fill in your child’s favorite). Everyone looks at Halloween costumes and buys bags of candy.” Try to continue this throughout the year. • When each holiday ends, begin groundwork for the next. Once Thanksgiving is over, your family member can self-talk through writing: “Our family will start taking down Thanksgiving decorations. We will start talking about (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.). We will get out the ornaments.”

• Include your family member in household chores during the holidays as much as possible, such as creating a grocery list pertaining to Thanksgiving dinner or mixing Christmas cookie dough. Having him push the cart and locate the items in the supermarket or load the dishwasher after the meal, which will alleviate that over-abundance of liveliness. In other words, direct his excitable, nervous energies towards a meaningful goal.

• As each holiday ends, have your family member recycle the wrapping paper, catalogs, and magazines. This is a physical and definite ending.

• Limit the choices of music and movies to a seasonal selection or to those that are relevant all year. Display the television listings as a visual cue. Recognizing that our relatives do not want to watch a Passover movie on Thanksgiving is using nice manners. Manners are a learned social skill.

• Proactively preparing each person about the upcoming changes in his schedule is the best bet! Information regarding the location of the holiday dinner is a must. If visitors are expected, please provide details. Social scrapbooks work wonders.

• Make available items and activities to keep your family members occupied during these holiday meals. Luckily, we can amuse ourselves with active conversation, passive listening, and daydreaming. Let’s be sensitive to others who struggle with intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.

Follow this holiday prep guide to avoid bumps in the rum cake road! You’ll be helping these special needs individuals move through the holiday season as we do, with a purpose. Cheers and be merry!

Updated 6:47 pm, October 28, 2016
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