MINNEAPOLIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–If you have a child on the autism spectrum or with sensory sensitivity, you know holiday “fun” can lead to tears of frustration instead of smiles of joy. Here are some tips from the neurodiversity experts at Franklin Therapy, a mental and behavioral health clinic that’s part of Franklin Center, for helping your neurodiverse child navigate the season.
Five Tips for Neurodiverse Holiday Calm
1) Maintain Routines. For some kids, a break from school is a reason to celebrate. For those on the spectrum or with other neurodiversities, though, change can be hard.
“During holiday school breaks, those with sensory sensitivity may become overstimulated,” said Katie Thormodsgaard, MSW, LICSW, Director for Franklin Therapy. “They might exhibit more sensory-seeking/avoidance behaviors more frequently. Bedtime and wake up times and routines should stay the same as much as possible. If you use visual checklists at home, don’t forget to bring them with you if you travel.”
And Thormodsgaard adds, “if an occupational therapist made recommendations for a special sensory diet, try to stick to that as much as possible for physical and emotional regulation.”
2) Prepare an exit strategy. If you’re going to a public event, know when to leave and how. That could mean picking an exit row at a holiday play or letting your party host know that you may need to leave early.
3) Tips in advance. Give friends and family some tips before you get together. This can help avoid hurt feelings when your child doesn’t want hugs or covers their ears during carol singing. Instead of “avoids” focus on “adds,” like “they love high fives more than hugs” or “we’re letting them enjoy the holidays by creating their own music” can help everyone connect on their own terms.
4) Create safe spaces. The lights, decorations, and music that make some feel festive can overwhelm others. If you have space at home, create a corner where your child can retreat from everything holiday (it could even be under a desk or table). And when go to events, create a “Holiday Bag” full of their favorite calming fidgets, books, headphones, and other items.
“If you work with a therapist, ask for recommendations of tools that may help your child and family,” says Thormodsgaard, “like weighted blankets, earmuffs, and specialty sand. Those with ADHD often find comfort in fidget toys and calming jars.”
5) Set the stage. Fortunately, no matter which holiday you celebrate, you know it’s coming! Take a few minutes to create what Thormodsgaard calls a “social story.” It can be as simple as talking about what’s coming up while looking at photos from past years, or it can be more detailed, with descriptions and images for each event.
With some advance planning and clear communication, the holidays can be festive instead of frustrating. You may find that taking time to prepare your child extends the holiday feeling for the whole family, by allowing time to reflect and anticipate.
Franklin Center, franklinmn.org, delivers innovative and integrated services for neurodiverse people and their families through a unique holistic service model spanning five different programs, from a K-12 school, to adult programming, mental and behavioral therapy, and summer camps.