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Tips for Navigating the Holiday Season

Our advice for maximizing merriness and minimizing stress and anxiety for the whole family

Somehow in this blink-and-you-miss-it year, we have already found ourselves approaching the holiday season. With Halloween in the rear view and Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and more upcoming, it can be easy to feel stress and anxiety of what's ahead, especially if your child is experiencing behavior or communication challenges. We have compiled some of our top tips for replacing holiday induced stress with good tidings and cheer for all members of your household.

For those who fear surprises and unexpected change:

The holiday season is synonymous with events, outings, and last minute errands. This can cause stress and anxiety for individuals who crave predictability and routines. We recommend reviewing the day or week in advance to minimize last minute surprises. Writing down a schedule with expected times or steps can be a helpful reminder of what is happening and when. For learners who benefit from visuals, creating a visual schedule can be a way to show him or her what is happening and in what order. No need to buy expensive software - Google image is a free and efficient way to find visuals depicting your weekend plans.

For individuals with sensory sensitivities:

Twinkling lights, parties with carolers, Santa, and ice skating rinks all sound like quintessential holiday outings filled with family fun. For some family members, sensitivities to lights, sounds, touch, crowds, or other external stimuli might replace fun with fear and a need to escape. Many venues offer sensory friendly hours to accommodate and include individuals with diverse sensory needs (including Santa!) Consider calling ahead to popular holiday venues to see if they offer a sensory friendly day or time. If not, think about what you can provide your child to help make the outing enjoyable for them. Sunglasses to dim light shows and noise canceling headphones can help block or reduce the effects of visual or auditory stimuli.

For those who struggle to communicate their wants and needs:

The holidays are a dream for children and young people who are able to tell us exactly what they want, especially when it comes to dreaming up holiday wish lists. However, some individuals struggle to communicate their wants and needs, leaving the child feeling frustrated and the parent feeling guilty for not being able to accurately read their loved one's mind. Now is the BEST time to ensure your child or young person has an efficient and effective method of speaking. Work with your BCBA and SLP to determine what options are right for your child and family. Spoken words, signs, PECS, and speech generating devices are some of the options that can be explored. Not sure your child's communication system is working for them? Ask yourself these questions -

- Does the child initiate using the system WITHOUT prompts or reminders?

- Is the system easy to access and always available to your child?

- Can the child travel anywhere with the system?

- Is the system understood by the key people in the child's life?

- Does the system allow the child to get the things that are most important to them?

- Does the system allow the child to gain new words quickly and easily?

- Is the system more efficient than problem behavior?

If you answered "no" to one or more of the above prompts, contact your BCBA or SLP today to review the current plan and make adjustments if necessary.

What other tips would you like to see included on our holiday guide?

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