How to Have Yourself a Very, Merry Holiday

By: Jen Grisnikholiday-shopping-with-a-child

The holidays can be a busy and stressful time: holiday parties, school concerts, visiting relatives, shopping, traveling, and so much more. Planning for, and attending various holiday events with your child with autism can increase your stress. But there are many things you can do to make this time more enjoyable for you, your family, and your child.

Some of the symptoms of autism that your child may have can be especially troubling when family or friends are present. Autism Speaks ( cites some of the most common symptoms as: repetitive behaviors, including strict adherence to routines, underdeveloped social skills, communication difficulties, and severe problem behaviors. However, these challenges do not need to be the sole focus of your holiday with family.

There are many things you can do to make the holiday season visits go smoothly for you and your child. Below are a few suggestions:

Stick to your schedule

Try to keep as many elements of your child’s schedule consistent as possible; mealtimes, bedtime, and bath time, especially. This could help alleviate some problem behaviors associated with changes in schedule. Of course, not every part of your schedule can remain the same, particularly when traveling. But, keeping as much consistent as possible will help.

Learning names

Before seeing family that your child hasn’t seen in a while, practice tacting (naming) photographs of them. This will make sure your child is able to identify each family member by name, and help you prepare your child for meeting them in person.

Include your family

Whenever and however possible, involve your family and friends in your child’s behavior program. This could include briefing them on what behaviors should be ignored, what behaviors to reinforce, and how to respond to various instances of problem behavior. If you and your immediate family are using the count-mand protocol, or any other protocols, showing your extended family members how to use them could be helpful. If possible, invite them to attend one of your child’s ABA therapy sessions!

By maintaining these protocols and plans with your extended family in town, you are helping your child generalize these behaviors to even more, new settings, and preventing behaviors from being inadvertently reinforced.


Practice some of the more difficult aspects of holiday traditions, such as gift giving, which can be hard for children who have trouble sharing. Have your child practice by giving toys or other items to siblings, adults, or even friends that are over; provide reinforcement when the child successfully gives the “gift” with no problem behaviors. However, it is suggested to provide a reinforcer other than another gift since this is not the type of reinforcement they will receive typically.  Consider using some other reinforcers that can be easily faded such as edibles (small piece of candy or cook) or access to preferred toy the child already owns.

Using these tips, along with talking to your child’s behavior therapist about any specific concerns you may have about the holidays, will help you and your family be able to enjoy a fun-filled holiday season!

Reaching Milestones wishes you and yours a very Happy Holidays!