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Mental Health and the Holidays: Children on the spectrum can enjoy holidays too

While this time of year may present sensory overload experiences, children on the spectrum can still enjoy the holiday if planned properly

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Christmas, sparkling lights, a festive atmosphere, eating and being merry. For many people, it's bliss. for the estimated 1 in 88 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) it can be anything but. Jenny Morris, Associate Director at Autism Support Alabama shares one common struggle for kids on the spectrum during this time is a disrupted schedule. 

"You've got lights, you've got music that we don't usually hear. and there's you know, there's visiting Santa and then there's the traditions," Morris states. "There is disruption in routine, because possibly, depending on their age, they've been in school for five days a week from 8 to 230 or 3:00 and then all of a sudden that goes away for about two and a half weeks."

Another struggle may be interacting with family. "There's also the overwhelming feeling, you know, many people see family that they don't normally see maybe at thanksgiving or over the holidays," Morris shares. "And so sometimes we have to retrain, or we have to train our families to understand the kids' responses."

Although this time of year can present challenges, there are ways to make it enjoyable.

First, create a routine:

"Do your best to create a routine," Morris shares. "Now, does that mean you have to invent school at home? no, but to structure is your safety net. So, try your best to create structure, and to maybe even make them a schedule to say we're going to play and do this at this time, you know, depending on their reading level, their cognitive level and their understanding and what they've been doing in school."

Second, prepare your child as early as possible:

"You want your kids to visit Santa, you want your kids to help with the Menorah, that could be overwhelming," Morris shares. "You know, we don't really have a lot of opportunities to visit Santa other times of the year, but maybe if you had a successful Santa photo that you bring it out in October and November and just say, 'hey, this is coming remember what a great day we had' and the traditions around Santa."

Next, talk to family:

"They may not want to hug them, they may not want to high five them, they may not want to sit and have a conversation and sometimes you get uncles and aunts and grandparents, and they just want to and understandably fill their time and catch up, but it might be too overwhelming," Morris shares. "And so, as a parent or caregiver advocate, you've got to advocate to for your child to say this is how he or she may or may not respond."

And lastly, for parents, know that there is help:

The number one thing is to ask for help," Morris shares. "And so, depending on your work s you need to get them to and back to the creating structure." " there's a church respite care system in Huntsville where you can go during specific times and the times are listed and the dates are listed and all different places around Huntsville where you can drop off your kid for 2 hours where they have a structured event. So, it's hard but you have to take care of yourself, you know, just like they tell us on the airplane, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on anybody else."

Credit: Autism Alabama

For more information on resources and list of events, visit Autism Support of Alabama's website.

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