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A parent’s guide to accessible and autism-friendly family gatherings

Article excerpt from Beaming Health

Here’s our guide for stress-free family gatherings, so you and your kiddo can stop worrying and just enjoy the holiday season!

Prepping the environment for your autistic child

Hosting a family gathering at your home means causing a disruption in your child’s normal routine. There’s more people, voices, noises, smells, and activities that aren’t the norm. Traveling to someone else’s home can also be overwhelming, as it’s a new environment without the familiarity of home. It’s not uncommon for autistic kids to experience discomfort or stress and increased stimming or challenging behaviors while traveling or during a visit from loved ones. To prepare for these changes and reduce stress on your child, here are some tips:

Decorate your home gradually, and let your child help.

Kids on the spectrum can be easily overwhelmed by the business of decor and the abrupt change. They’re used to your home looking and feeling a certain way, so participating in the process and decorating a little at a time can give your child time to adjust while making it a fun activity. Some kids really love decorating, while others may find lots of decorations too stimulating.

Skip decorations that may cause your child to be overwhelmed or tempt them to fixate.

If you’re visiting someone else’s home, talk with them beforehand about decor. You can tell them what your child’s triggers are. For example, it might not be a good idea for Grandma Pearl to display her priceless crystal vase where your child can reach it! My great aunt has a collection of thousands of decorative owls… I let her know before we visit that my son is definitely not going to leave them alone.

Communicate with loved ones ahead of time about your child’s needs and triggers.

Let them know how your child communicates, what they like to eat, what they like to do, etc.

Ask about quiet spaces/rooms to take a break if you’re staying at someone else’s house.

Feel empowered to tell family members things that bug you your child – like repeated questions might make your autistic child feel anxious, or that vacuuming will upset them. It may even be helpful to make a list of your child’s triggers and what they need to be comfortable with beforehand, then send it out to loved ones in a text or email. That way, you’re not scrambling to address things when they pop up

Discuss food options and the menu with your host or guests before the big day.

Does your child need a separate area to sit during meal time, or do they prefer a certain seat at the table? Do they need a certain temperature in order to sleep comfortably? Be mindful of what your child will need to be comfortable and communicate those things.

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