Preparing for the Holidays – Transcript of Live Chat Nov 2019

By Brock Sheppard
  • Each month, Lisa our Regional Coordinator for Interior BC hosts a live Q&A on our Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/autismbc). During the chat Lisa, answers questions, encourages other people to add their own ideas/answers and shares resources.  

    Below is a transcript of the conversation broken down by question. 

    Q1 – How do you find a sensory-friendly/quiet space for your child?
    Great question, it can depend on where you are and how comfortable you are asking. Sometimes as parents/caregivers we have difficulty asking for what we need. Go ahead and ask Aunt Milly if your child can use her spare room so they can have a sensory break. Perhaps promote it as an essential way to keep the peace and joy in the household and that you would appreciate their help. People do enjoy helping for the most part. Just make sure all valuables and dangerous items are removed before getting your child comfortable. If there isn’t a room, maybe you could go for a walk or outside or sit in the car to decompress (supervision and safety always a priority of course so please use common sense depending on age and ability).

    Q2 – How can we prepare for the changes in food over the holidays? 

    Resource Link; From the Art of Autism – Tips for an Autism Friendly Holiday.

    • Try holiday foods in advance – this helps your child get accustomed to the new smells, sights and tastes of the festive table.
    • Maintain their normal routine – provide the cutlery, crockery and familiar food they normally have so they can still enjoy something to eat. This can also extend to what they like to wear. Keep them involved in short bursts and lots of positive appraisal.
    • Practice Christmas Day – this could be as big or as small as you want. You could trial the eating, the presents and even the clothes you plan on wearing if you think this will help your child cope on the big day.

    Resource Link; Scary Mommy Blog – Surviving the Holidays 

    • Bring food your kid(s) will eat. In our case, that’s usually a fruit salad—plain fruit without sauces or marshmallows or juices. Will my son eat gravy, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce? Not a chance. When my kids were younger, we hauled entire meals to relatives’ homes. Sometimes that meant lunch meat, a cookie, rice crackers and fruit. Other times, it meant homemade chicken nuggets. It wasn’t regular holiday fare, but the boys were comfortable eating it and nobody starved.
    • Be prepared for a child with autism to eat somewhere other than the dinner table.
    • Designate a quiet spot for meals and downtime far from the noise and chaos. (I know a family whose sons used to sit in the pantry and eat cereal during holiday mealtimes. It worked for them.) When our boys were toddlers, we fed them in high chairs in the breezeway at my in-laws’ home. They were too overstimulated and upset to eat in the dining room or the kitchen with everyone else. One year, my son took bites between opening and shutting his obsession: the automatic garage door.

    Q3 – Electronics
    TOP TIP –ALWAYS make sure they are fully charged.
    If you want to enjoy your day and your child playing on Minecraft at the grandparents’ house is going to allow you to have an hour to visit and socialize I say “why not?”. This is everyone’s holiday and you as the caregiver/parent should enjoy it too. Download that show on Netflix that may entertain them (and the other younger children that might be there). You may want to make sure that WIFI passwords are accessible and relatives know where to locate them (especially if this isn’t a frequent place you visit).

    Q4 – Any ideas for when we need time away but don’t want to explaining the diagnosis? 
    Conversation between 2 parents (initial C and B) and Lisa.

    C – When my daughter has had enough “socializing” and disappears how do you explain the behavior as some people do not know her diagnosis. She is not always wanting people to know that she has ASD.

    Lisa: Oh this is a good question! and a challenging one to answer. I’m not sure if I’m saying the right thing here or not. Could you ask for her to be excused just because she is finding it too loud and is sensitive to noise? Perhaps a white lie of a head ache? Again, not sure if I should be saying that but I think that is what I would do.

    C: Thank you. I have used the not feeling well excuse as well. The problem is when they join and leave the group when it gets tricky especially in larger mixed groups. SO hard trying to balance her needs and the social rules. The behavior is seen as rude not a sensory thing.

    Lisa: Funny C I did a quick google after your question and wasn’t able to find anything….if you use the “headache” that is something that can come and go…..not to promote white lies but if it makes the experience better for everyone?

    B: Maybe I can help. I tell people she has a hard time with a lot of people and gets overwhelmed and has sensitive hearing. I know people see it as rude, but I have learned to let go of that, because my girls’ needs are much more important to me. 😊 I think in time we let go of that. Took me a long time with anxiety of what people were perceiving my daughter. It’s a journey. I hope you find something that works for you and her. And good luck

    C: Thank you. I will add that to my tool box. 🙂 so sad that we only accept peoples behavior if there is a label. I wish we could just say that its ok to be yourself and be accepted for who you are

    Q5: Preparing for Christmas Morning
    Here’s a question about the Christmas morning chaos…. myself…I like the turn taking of opening presents and watching everyone’s faces light up when they see their gift. DISCLAIMER: This may not happen this year and you know what? That’s okay? If your child hasn’t mastered turn taking (and what child (autistic or Neuro typical has?) don’t work on it today. I say let them go (as long as everyone remains safe and they aren’t opening others’ gifts!).

    T: Our tradition is different. We have never had the chaos on Christmas morning, because we open our gifts on Christmas Eve. It’s a very different tone – everyone is dressed up, we sing songs and there’s wonderful treats. When our boy was younger, we would just let him start, and then the next older kid would open theirs, and so on till we got to the adults. That way you didn’t have to worry about the turn-taking as much 🙂 And everyone can sleep in on Christmas Day Honestly, I don’t know how I could have stopped our boy from just getting up at 5am and opening everything. We do a St. Nicholas day, which they see on awakening on Dec 6th. That was just a boot filled with goodies, so it didn’t impact anyone else, and he could get up as early as he wanted. My older son needed a flow chart to tell him what he could and couldn’t do if he woke up 3 hours before the rest of the house (not an issue any more – LOL).

    Q6 – Any advice for travelling by plane
    There are some good resources out there developed by airports in partnership with the Canucks Autism Network

    YVR Vancouver Airport’s Autism Travel Resources?
    Kelowna Autism Travel Resources 

    If you aren’t flying in or out of these cities look at the airport website that you will be using and see if they have accessibility accommodations.

    Final Tips for individuals on the autism spectrum, parents, extended family and friends…
    • Greet the child as you normally would
    • Check in with your loved one at the event, do they appear anxious, scared, stimming?
    • Always presume they understand everything.
    • Bring toys and books from home (familiar items)
    • Give two choices and get the child to choose one (toys, games, etc.)
    • Dress for comfort
    • Make sure electronics are charged. For those who communicate through typing or technology, being able to use electronics freely is necessary.
    • Know your sensory limits (fidget toys, weighted pads)
    • Find common interests (animals, etc.)
    • Try to stick to your routine as much as possible
    • Mindfulness activities (breathing, going for a walk or other exercises)
    • Tell family and friends what you need.
    • Maybe that’s a quiet space, a helping hand, lack of judgmental comments, or the ability to chill out when Junior decides to flush the toilet 75 times in one hour. When others know what you need to make the day go more smoothly, most people are happy to help. It’s not easy to ask for help, but it’s critical.

    Visiting Santa Information

    Check out the Sensory Friendly Blog, visiting Santa Claus Info. It contains 12 tips for parents and children visiting Santa Claus too.

    There are also other Visiting Santa Claus resources
    Visiting Santa Claus Story the (PDF) eBook
    Visiting Santa Claus Story the video 
    Visiting Santa Claus Story the video with audio