The Mighty Logo

6 Ways to Rethink the Holidays for Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

The holidays will likely be different this year, but many of these ideas will serve you well, regardless of the size and location of your celebrations.

Do you need to rethink the holidays for your family?

Eighteen people from four states (but not in 2020, please!) Food allergies. Picky eaters. Spirited discussions. Multiple football games on multiple screens. Your autistic child’s routine turned upside down. If the upcoming holiday season has you dreading what is supposed to be a celebratory time, then it’s time for you to rethink the holidays for your child on the spectrum and your family.

Rethink the Crowds

Whether a crowd means five or 15 for your loved one with a disability, you need to have an escape plan.  If you are hosting, designate an area of your house and/or yard that is “off limits” for the guests. This will allow your loved one to have some downtime, away from the party or celebration.

Rethink the Gifts

Well-meaning family members may struggle with gift ideas for a kid who can’t clearly articulate what they want for lunch, much less what they want an invisible man in a red suit to bring in the middle of the night a month from now.  For a few ideas, check out some of The Mighty’s gift guides for kids with disabilities here and here.

Rethink the Meals

Think about the timing. Often larger groups sit down to holiday meals at “off-times,” like 3 p.m. If this is the case for your celebration, then plan accordingly. Either have a later breakfast, or provide a snack to tide your child over. Or give them a full lunch, and then allow for “grazing” at the large meal, which might be a more practical solution anyway.

Also, be cognizant of the food being served. If you are hosting, you can obviously be in control of what’s on the table, and include a crudités platter, bread or rolls, whole olives or whatever else your child will need to make a meal. If you are a guest, plan to contribute an item that you know your kid will eat — for years it was this no-boil mac and cheese recipe. Now that we’ve moved away from dairy for Mr. D, I usually plan to bring some Tartine bread, or veggies and dip.

Rethink the Overnight Guests

If you will be the guests, then think critically about what environment will work best for you and your loved one.  Here are some things to consider. If you are hosting overnight guests, then make sure that your child’s routine is disrupted as little as possible. In our house, this means filling up other rooms with giant air mattresses to avoid anyone having to share a room with Mr. D.

Rethink the Family Traditions

Think about how you can incorporate your child into family traditions. We often decorate a gingerbread house, and then allow Mr. D free reign as soon as we have snapped a quick photo. We hang stockings for weeks in advance, and then fill his with fistfuls of shredded colorful paper — a messy but fulfilling gift for him (see gifts, above).

The tree is an area of great challenge for us. It is beyond tempting with its twinkling lights, string-like garland and dozens of shiny objects. Though I grew up with a real tree, it has become more practical to use an artificial one. We pull it out on the 24th, and fill it with non-breakable ornaments, most of which we have made by hand over the year.  The morning of the 26th, it is down — one less inanimate object in the house to worry about.

Rethink the Photos and Memories

This might be the hardest part, but also the most significant. If you are able to manage a disability-friendly photo session near the holiday, then it is worth it.  Either way, you will still want to capture the moments you can during the actual celebrations. Because part of the holidays for your family is actually remembering them.

After you have made a plan to master the holidays for your family, do you need some time for yourself? Check out these ideas here and here.

This story originally appeared on Piece of Mind Retreat.

Originally published: November 23, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home