Many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) report the holiday season as a time filled with stress and anxiety instead of festive fun. Changes in routine, family gatherings and new experiences increase frustration and set the scene for meltdowns—from children and parents alike!
Speech-language pathologists use many techniques to set up clients with ASD for success. Try suggesting some of these tried-and-true methods to caregivers to help set up a smooth season.
SLPs prepare clients for social success. We prepare our clients for new situations by helping them create social stories about their expected behaviors. We can help parents to write these stories, too. Advise them to use simple sentence structures and include descriptions of the setting, people attending and appropriate social behaviors.
More on helping families handle the holidays:
SLPs practice effective communication. We help clients communicate important messages. Performing a skill once, however, doesn’t mean they mastered it. Parents can help their child practice identifying situations or times that might cause anxiety and frustration. They can also practice selecting effective methods for calming down during stress-inducing holiday scenarios. Using visuals—like the ones shown here—and discussing coping strategies for various feelings in advance could definitely avoid a meltdown or two!
SLPs think about the necessary materials. And the unnecessary materials. And everything in between. In fact, when we are not in our natural habitats, other professions easily identify our species by pointing out our large treatment bags, filled to the brim with materials. Thinking about what we need—whether we use items in the client’s environment or bring our own materials—allows sessions to run smoothly.
We can teach parents this strategy, too! Attending a potentially overwhelming holiday event isn’t the time to take a minimalist approach. Advise caregivers to bring anything and everything they think might keep their child entertained and calm in an unfamiliar environment. Try suggesting engaging activities, extra snacks, a change of clothes, any necessary communication tools, sensory toys and comfort items.
SLPs collaborate with others. We work with other professionals for the benefit of our kiddos. Does that mean we always agree wholeheartedly with their opinions? No, but we’re all professionals, so disagreements mostly get handled civilly. Many parents share their personal struggles with family members who are uninformed about ASD or their child’s specific behaviors and treatment plan. Yet these same uninformed family members dole out unsolicited advice.
What can these parents do?
- Remain “professional” and commit to not raising voices. Escalating the situation only generates more stress for the child—and everyone else!
- Gently remind family members that they use evidence-based strategies taught by a professional to help their child work on a variety of skills.
- Be proactive and send a general email or text to extended family, not targeting anyone specific. A simple reminder could mention that changes in routine are challenging for people with ASD, and that holidays aren’t a good time to discuss trying new behavior techniques or unfamiliar foods, because the event already presents new and unfamiliar situations.
These SLP-proven techniques should help parents handle the holidays and maybe even enjoy the festivities!
Do you have other tips to offer parents during this hectic time of year? Please share in the comment section below.
Kimberly Tice, MS, CCC-SLP, provides intervention in language, learning, literacy and feeding to people with autism spectrum disorder, and is also a certified special educator. She co-authors the Lou Knows What to Do book series and Sociability Books blog with Venita Litvack. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. email@example.com
Venita Litvack, MA, CCC-SLP, serves people with autism spectrum disorder in a variety of settings as an SLP and behavioral assistant. She also co-authors the Lou Knows What to Do book series and Sociability Books blog with Kimberly Tice. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. firstname.lastname@example.org