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Posts tagged ‘Holidays’

Lessons on Navigating the Holidays and Family

The following is a personal story written by Kristin, an ambassador of MyAutismTeam, the social network for parents of children of all ages with autism. Below she shares the lessons that she has learned incorporating her extended family into her son’s life.  If you are a parent of child with ASD, go to MyAutismTeam and connect with other parents who ‘get it.’ Thousands of parents from all over the country are here to share not only their stories, but their daily lives: the good days and bad days and the triumphs!

KristinThis time of year my favorite for one main reason—the food! Seeing extended family and getting time off from school or work is also a bonus. Sometimes spending time with your extended family can be a hassle, especially if you have different circumstances than the rest of your family.

My son happens to be the only child with any sort of special needs (ASD) on either side of the family, which can make the holidays stressful. Yes, getting my son to do something other than climb the stairs over and over again is frustrating, but that’s not the main stressor, the extended family is. We all love our families (hopefully!), but sometimes things aren’t all pleasant.

I remember how interactions with my son went at the first family gathering following his diagnosis. It was nearly nonexistent. We have two doctors in the family, so they interacted with my son, but others didn’t. Over time I began to notice a trend in who would make an effort to talk to and play with my son, but also that did not. I even conducted an informal experiment to see how often my extended family interacted with my son last Thanksgiving. You know what I found? The family members who barely engaged my son had little to no knowledge about autism.

It can be so easy to just get angry, assume they don’t want to be a part of your child’s life, or even dislike your child. Try not to jump to conclusions and think about why certain family members avoid your child. There could be a whole host of completely rational reasons why they avoid your child.

Here are some reasons that I have found to be true:

  • They don’t know how to interact with your child. This is the most common reason that I encounter. Not everyone is as versed on the ins and outs of autism as us ASD parents. Telling your family that your child has autism may not be enough to prompt investigation on their part. Try bringing your child up in casual conversation and state how they should interact with your child. For example, you could say “Talking to him like we would other children is most beneficial for him,” or “we typically talk to him with short, specific sentences,” to emphasize how to communicate with your child. I did this exact thing with my siblings-in-law to let them know that we talk to our son just like we would any other kid. Modeling it also helps. I noticed that a few of them began to make consistent efforts to interact with my son after that.
  • They want to help, but don’t know how. I specifically noticed this with my mother-in-law. She wants to help, but doesn’t really know what to do. She used to repeat herself over and over again to my son, trying to help, but it just made us angry. We felt like she assumed our son was unintelligent. Turns out, she was told that repetition helps with learning. She took that too literally, hence the repetitious nature of her conversations with my son. When she last visited, we actually told her about things he was working on at school and asked that she practice those things, too. One thing in specific was hugging. My son is very affectionate, but in unique ways. He has been learning to hug at school, so we told her about it and asked her to do it. When he did hug her, she was so proud! She even instructed my father-in-law to start doing it, too!
  • Awareness is crucial.  The simple act of knowing has major influential effects on how people behave. I can attest to this myself. Even as a parent to a child with autism, I still find that initially I feel a little bit of anxiety when initially meeting a new child with ASD. The more exposure I have, the more comfortable I feel. I am an undergraduate research assistant in an Applied Behavior Science program, so I interact with children with ASD all the time. The more time I spend with these kids, the more comfortable I get with new children and new issues. Just try to inform your extended family about your child’s situation. This can be formal and informal. Chances are your family may have some idea that autism is something that it really isn’t. Express the great things your child does as well as struggles (chance to ask for help!).

I have noticed that the more information I provide to my family, the more they want to interact with my son and ask about his progress. It is so important to not jump to conclusions and get angry. Let’s be honest, raising a child with ASD is hard work. Why add more work and stress to your load? Try to enjoy the holidays, eat lots of yummy food, and teach your child some new social skills. And if some family member refuses to be social with your child, then don’t sweat it. Your child needs to be surrounded by supportive and loving people anyways.

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5 Practical Tips for Parents of Kids with Autism This Holiday Season

Autism Holidays

While the holiday season can be exciting because it lets us break routine, thousands of parents on MyAutismTeam.com have told us that it’s the breaking of routine that can create unexpected behavior in their kids with autism. Here are 5 tips from thousands of parents on MyAutismTeam.com to navigate the holidays:

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1) Practice – do a practice run of holidays events like gift exchanges with others, or meeting Santa at the mall, or even eating at the special occasion dining table. By getting their children familiar with typical holiday festivities, parents on myautismteam.com told us, the anxiety in their kids goes down.

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2) Keep it small – If you can, avoid large or loud groups. Some kids with autism get easily overwhelmed in large groups and loud noises, even if only music. Parents say it’s a good idea, to permit your child some downtime away from the hustle and bustle, so they can feel a moment of calm.

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3) Comfortable surroundings – gradually decorate your home and have them help. Some children with autism experience sensory overload from decorations, like flashy lights and music. Homes with non-flashy decor can feel more comfortable.

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4) Keep it simple – avoid over-scheduling. Parents suggest time-boxing certain events, and managing your child’s expectations of how long it may be that we’re visiting Aunt Katy’s or Granny’s.

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5) Finally, create a food plan – if visiting others for dinner pack snacks and meals that are familiar to your child, and communicate with your hosts that’ll you be doing that so that everyone is on the same page.

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These are just a few tips. Kids with autism are so different, and have different needs. Parents interested in learning more should ask other parents in their shoes on MyAutismTeam.com.

Holiday Tips for Parents of Kids with Autism: Including Gift Ideas & Activities

The holiday season is always a fun yet stressful time of year. Planning activities for kids, buying presents for friends and family, deciding which holiday parties to attend – the list goes on. However, decisions become especially challenging for parents and relatives of those with a child on the autism spectrum.

We surveyed our more than 14,000 community members and came up with some tips to help parents and children on the spectrum successfully navigate through the holidays. Here are the top 5 tips:

  1. Practice. Do a practice run of ‘the Holiday moments’ like waiting for other family members to wake up before opening presents, practice gift giving and receiving, practice any traditions that take place ahead of time to help familiarize your child.
  2. Keep it small. If your kids are easily over-stimulated, keep them away from large or loud groups that you might find at the mall. Keep your child comfortable by avoiding large crowds.
  3. Comfortable surroundings. If your child experiences sensory overload or changes to their environment, gradually decorate your home rather than all at once. Share pictures of typical decorations that your child is likely to see. If you think your child may experience sensory overload from decorations, like flashy lights, have them help decorate your own home with non-flashy decor to feel more comfortable. Also, it may be good to avoid those homes or stores that truly go over the top.
  4. Keep it simple. Avoid over-scheduling. Sometimes, simply staying home for the holidays helps. If you do plan to visit with family, doing so in short sessions can be more effective. Also, establish a place in the home that you’re visiting for your child to have private downtime away from the group.
  5. Create a food plan. If you are taking your child to other homes to visit with family and friends, pack toys, snacks and meals that are familiar to your child. Meal planning is the way to go!

With school breaks surrounding us in December, parents also shared recommendations of activities to take part in, like:

  • Watch Christmas movies and T.V. shows at home.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Decorate the house/tree together.
  • Bake and cook together.
  • Arts & crafts.
  • Christmas tree shopping.
  • Gift shopping.
  • Take a tour/drive around neighborhoods with Christmas lights.

Finally, here are the top gifts parents recommended for relatives to get kids with ASD:

  • iPad
  • Legos
  • Gift cards (iTunes/Amazon)
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Sensory toys (like My Keepon, plushies, sonic toys)
  • Video games

For more holiday tips with children with ASD, check out these great links:

Holiday Tips for Families Living with Autism, Autism Society

Surviving the Holidays with Autism, Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

Holiday Tips, Autism Speaks

Written by Mary Ray, CMO/ Co-founder at MyAutismTeam

Follow us on Twitter @myautismteam or Facebook www.facebook.com/myautismteam

As always, please send us any feedback/questions that you have! Meet more parents like you in the autism community by signing up for MyAutismTeam.

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