A Guide to a Magical Holiday Season…

Whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s, we are all looking forward to celebrating these holidays with our families and friends. Holidays can sometimes be overwhelming by the abundance of people, noise level, routine change, and gift exchanges. These events can be overwhelming for everyone, and can be especially stressful for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. At times, families tend to avoid family events as they feel they will be judged based on their child(ren)’s milestones or behaviors. Every year, during this time, I have families that reach out and ask me for recommendations on social greetings and priming techniques that they can use when they are away from their homes and in a new environment. Below you will find a few recommendations that can come in handy this holiday season:


Holidays are a great time to create lasting memories for your child. It is important to keep family traditions or start new ones, and involve your child as much as possible in activities. During the holiday season, I have families that have anxiety as they are unable to predict how their child will respond to a new environment, what their family will say, or how long they can stay until behaviors arise. It is important to take things one step at a time and plan.

If you have holiday parties coming up, set up a time where you can review: Where the event will take place? Who can come? And how long will the event be? By taking the time to review, you can create a plan that is manageable for everyone to be implemented and feel comfortable participating in. If you have not gone to a social gathering in a while or it is the first time your family was invited, plan to stay for half of the social gathering. Do not be afraid to leave earlier or come later in the day. Plan on bringing toys, activities, and food that your child enjoys as you may not know what the party will consist of. Ask if you can bring a therapist if you are receiving ABA therapy or if you qualify for Respite Care. If you can bring a therapist, reach out to your BCBA for them to write social skills that can be worked on during this event. If no staff can come with you, ask your BCBA to conduct some parent training sessions, prior to your event, to practice how to implement social interactions with novel people or in a novel environment.

Strategies to plan:

Plan on being toys and activities that your child enjoys playing with in a backpack. Fill the backpack with 3 to 5 toys that your child can play throughout the course of the party. Always pack food or snacks that your child enjoys as you may not know what the party food will consist of. At times, behaviors will increase when a child is hungry, by making sure that your child has food to eat it will decrease the chance of behaviors occurring.

Strategies to promote social interactions

Plan to speak with your family and friends before attending the event. Have them greet your family by the front door, away from other guests. Introduce other guests in small groups so as not to overwhelm your child. Have people greet your child by getting them to eye level and standing one foot away. Avoid physical touch in order to prevent them from feeling their space is being invaded.

Strategies to reduce challenging behaviors

Take notice or ask your providers for a list of pre-cursors that have led to maladaptive behaviors. Read the list before you go and if behaviors occur try the following:

  • Remove your child from the environment and give them time to calm down, after they have calmed down re-introduce them into the environment.
  • This may occur multiple times throughout the event, but by providing your child with a break from the new environment you are allowing them to learn coping skills.

All holidays are a time to celebrate with your friends and families. No family should feel like they need to limit their child from experiencing holiday traditions. May you have a Happy Holiday Season and a very Happy New Year.

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