If you have a child or relative with autism, you may be familiar with the difficulties of autistic children and holiday stress. Around the calendar holidays, or other events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations,special occasions, or "just because" special days, the stress level is increased to get everything done. Children with autism, can make these joyous times seem difficult, because they may have trouble communicating and understanding what the holidays are for and about.
Autistic children, can be extremely intelligent, but it is often difficult for them to express their needs. They sometimes struggle to control their emotional responses and even as they age, they are constantly having to be aware of the communication. This is due to the fact, that most autistic children do not do well with changes and stress.
Children with autism are easily over stimulated, and the emotion and chaos of holidays or special events can set their limits to an extreme. Holidays usually include seeing relatives and large groups of people that they may not be used to. Autistic children like being in their comfort zone and usually have a difficult time opening up to new people. So being around large groups and crowds at holiday time can often be very difficult for autistic children.
It is important for the parents not to get upset if a child does not have an interest in parties, or the opening of presents. Children may be more content sitting in the corner alone, and that needs to be respected, nothing to be upset by. The child is most likely taking in all of the excitement in his or her own way. If you put pressure on children with autism to join in with the festivities, this will add more stress, and may cause a tantrum or break down. If interested in the presents or other festivities, he or she may jump in when they feel most comfortable. Allow your child to do this on their own terms, and when he or she has built up confidence to join in with the group. Your child may also prefer to open their presents alone or with you, after the craziness has died down, which is a challenge to accept and support.
Specifically, at the holidays try to avoid loud noises, a large amount of visitors to your home at the same time, being forced to do things, such as, eat with a group or open presents in a group, or forcing them to "behave" and engage with others when they are not ready to do so. If the child goes off on his own to play alone, let him do so, because he is doing that to cope with the overwhelming stress of the environment. Keep individuals who are not familiar with autism informed about the behavior of the child so they do not take offense to any behaviors or try to force the child to interact.
There is a lot of guidance and information from other parents who have lived through the difficulty of autistic children and holiday stress, so it is important to have a support structure in place to help you get through the holidays with joy, peace and fun.
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