16 Tips to Ensuring an Autism-Friendly Holiday Party
We have officially nearly ended the year and there will be many family gatherings that would include their autistic members as well, for Christmas and Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Yule, with New Year's Eve and New Year's Day topping it all off for 2013. Some might celebrate up to January 13, and Chinese New Year won't hit for over a month yet. Autism knows no race, no color and no religion. It is a genetic disorder which is often aggravated by environmental factors.
With the holidays finally here, autism parents often shy away from large family gatherings and often feel the need to stay at home, away from the celebrations, replacing it with intimate settings and immediate family. You don't need to be afraid of large gatherings. You just need to be prepared and present an autism-friendly environment in which all could enjoy the meal and the subsequent fun to be had.
I hope some of these tips come in handy. You should not keep yourself or your children from the fun the holidays brings, and those you spend the time with should understand that certain modifications should be made. In order to ensure your family and friends understand a little more about autism, send them some books written by autistic kids or about them, as well as blockbuster films outlining the lives autistic people lead.
--If you are potty training, it might be a good idea to use pictures and reinforcement to ensure the children know when to go to the bathroom and how to maneuver themselves. It might also be a good idea to take them to the home where the party will be. On the plus side, if it is in your own home, the autistic child has his safe spots and feels comfortable with the bathroom. No need to reinvent the wheel.
--Be careful what you are feeding your autistic children beforehand. Stay away from certain foods, including eggs, frozen foods, citrus fruits and soy products. Use any of the 33 foods mentioned in this list to calm down your little one and help prevent meltdowns.
--Pack some melatonin if your child takes it, as it is known to help calm a child in meltdown down and put the little ones to sleep if you are staying overnight.
--Pack a weighted blanket as well if your child has major sensory issues and deep pressure helps keep calm. It would mean the child has something he or she knows and feels safe with and something which provides the necessary pressure to soothe a sensory overload.
--Give your autistic child a really warm bath in order to calm down the body and reduce the effects of all the sensations he or she was exposed to until that moment. This reduces the chances of having sensory overload and leading to a meltdown.
--Make note of the techniques which normally help end an explosive meltdown. If you are no sure, use any of these tips that you think might help.
At the Party
- Keep the lights slightly dimmed. Add candles if you want to add to the decor and the lighting in an area.
- Keep the noise levels low. Loud thumping music coupled with extra loud relatives screaming to get their voices heard over it all does not go well with autistic children.
- designate a safe spot that shuts out the noise and the light if need be. Direct your child to hide there if things become too much.
- Keep the weighted blanket close at hand or within the safe spot.
- Ensure the table includes foods your autistic child likes. Once again, keep away from serving foods that only aggravate disruptive symptoms.
- Make sure everyone in the room knows how to communicate with the autistic child and where to direct him or her if a meltdown seems to be on the horizon.
Communicating with the Autistic child
The Montreal Gazette recommends taking these steps:
Do not start with a question. If the child fails at answering, the conversation will be over. Instead, start with a statement that the child can refute, agree with or not. Make observational statements that are relevant to the moment, like "cool shirt!" or "these are interesting looking dinosaurs!"
Wait an additional 20 seconds for the child to respond. If you throw another question and another statement and simply jumble it all up, the child will be confused, clam up and won't respond at all. Show just a little patience and you'll get what you want.
Don't take it personally. Some children with autism might not respond right away. Don't worry about it. They might be trying to control themselves, feeling things they are not used to or simply thinking in a way that's quite alien to you. Give it some time and try to engage the child in conversation later on. It might make a world of difference.
Try to include the autistic child in conversation no matter what. Chances are, they really want to communicate, to take part to laugh and have the attention on them. They just need to do it on their own terms. Just show an effort that you want them in and you will be pleasantly surprised.
All in all, here is hoping you have a great holiday party with as few hiccups as possible, particularly when it comes to having an autistic child present.