Surviving-and Enjoying-the Holidays

Advice from Florida Tech’s Scott Center for Autism Treatment

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Already fraught with potential social and emotional challenges, the holiday season can be even more daunting for families with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Alison Betz, a board-certified behavior analyst and a faculty supervisor at Florida Institute of Technology’s Scott Center for Autism Treatment, understands the challenges parents could face and has offered some essential tips and guidance for better navigating these coming weeks.

“The holiday season can be stressful for anyone, and families of children with autism may be particularly stressed,” Betz said. “I’ve found that parents are constantly wondering whether they are doing enough to meet their child’s needs.”

In addition to following simple guidance for day-to-day interactions, including being consistent and transparent, keeping ASD children engaged and rewarding good behavior, Betz said parents and others should understand how best to handle two other common facets of the holiday: travel and family gatherings.

For traveling, Betz offered these tips:

  • Consider calling ahead to airports and hotels to see what accommodations and services they may offer for individuals with autism or other special needs.
  • Pack a survival kit.
  • Leave plenty of time.
  • Pick your battles.
  • Give in early.

During travel days, or at any time, Betz encourages parents to always pay attention to children’s’ good behavior.

“We often take it for granted when our children are behaving appropriately. Make sure you recognize when your child is doing something you like and reinforce that. You can provide some positive feedback through praise or even a special little treat for really good behavior,” she said.

So you’ve made it to your extended family’s home for the holiday celebration. Now begins another series of challenges. For these gatherings, Betz offered additional suggestions:

  • Prepare family and friends.
  • Prepare your child.
  • Do not battle mealtime.
  • Keep your child/children entertained.
  • Have scheduled check-ins.

Though for family members who may be hosting these gatherings, or who may be interacting with children with autism for the first, time, Betz said the preparation should begin well before everyone arrives.

These people should reach out to the parents to discuss what they should or should not do, what the child likes or does not like, and any special requests. Some children, for example, may not like physical contact, such as hugs. And it is good to ask how to respond if problem behavior occurs.

“The holidays can be challenging, with different schedules and activities, unfamiliar faces and new locations,” Betz said. “But an emphasis on planning, preparation and positive reinforcement can smooth out some of the bumps and ensure the joy of being together as a family is able to come through.”



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