‘Tis the Season to be Jolly! Fa la la la la la la la NAH!!!!!


Ah, the holidays…so full of joy and cheer…OR NOT! At least, not always if you are a parent of a young child, and especially not if you have a child with autism, anxiety, and/or sensory differences.

The winter holidays are full of so many things. Different people, different places, different events, new and different vocabulary (Santa, reindeer, ornaments, etc), different foods with weird names (take for example, “mincemeat pie,” it’s not made of meat, it’s made of an odd combination of fruits, and it tastes like the death of a 1000 dreams…minced dream pie? I’m not a fan)…but I digress. The holidays also mean crowded stores, long lines, loud and overstimulating parties, a ton of stuff to be believed but not seen, and a ton of stuff that is beautiful and sparkly and full of mystery but not to be touched…and the waiting, my golly, SO MUCH WAITING! So, it’s no wonder that ‘tis the season of meltdowns for many young children. It’s also no wonder that our ancestors came up with spiked egg nog and mulled wine to muddle through it all. But what can we do as parents to make this season easier on our kids?

In the next few installments of this blog, we are going to take this thing apart and put it back together. Before we get started though, let me just say I know that I’m going to be asking a lot of you and I’m adding more to your plate in an already busy season. Heck, my kids are getting older and are essentially typically developing and even I feel like I’m rolling around in a hamster ball crashing into things. I get it. But read me now and believe me later, this particular act of service for your family will be so worth it!

So, let’s waste no more time and dive right in!

Tip #1: It’s all about that prep, ‘bout that prep, no surprises!

It’s got a nice beat and you can dance to it, but what does it mean? From where I stand as both a speech-language pathologist and a mom, advanced preparation (or, “pre-organization”) is the key to success in any new situation. Pre-organization gives your child a set of vocabulary and expectations to work from as they walk through the new situation. It helps them to understand the words that are being said, and to have an understanding of what is happening now and what will come next.

We’ve already talked about “different days” in our previous chats (and I’d strongly encourage you to review). To summarize, though, for our kiddos and especially those with autism, most days follow the same daily routine. The child knows generally what to expect. Therefore, when a day comes along that’s out of the norm, it can be shocking and distressing. By introducing the concept of “different day” to your child, you can alert them in a calm and understandable way that the day will NOT be the usual BEFORE they discover that for themselves. It’s not bad, it’s not good; it’s just different. 

Your child’s next thought will then be, “HOW is it going to be different?”. This is when I move to setting the child’s expectations for what will happen. I have two key techniques for setting expectations*: 1) using picture books to introduce vocabulary and concepts; 2) using visual schedules to introduce the expected sequence of events. I’ve talked about both of these techniques at great length in our previous chats (and I even talked about it as it applied to holidays around Easter time), and, for now, I’ll let you review. I’ll be back soon though with specific examples for you to use this winter holiday season.

Until then, my friends, be on the lookout for holiday magic that isn’t planned…and don’t forget to move your elf!


*The theoretical foundations of these techniques may be further explained in a book I worked on, Facilitating Early Social Communication Skills: From Theory to Practice, available now from AAPC Publishing.

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