Helpful Holiday Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The holiday season is a joyful time of the year, but it also can be stressful for kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Preparing and planning early for the holidays can help you relieve some of the holiday stress. Here are a few helpful tips from our partner, The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Provide concrete information for your child
• Provide a visual schedule of each day’s expectations. Include start times and end times.
• Use your smart phone or iPad when possible to find free apps including visual timers, “First This Then This” schedules, and personalized “social stories.”
• Explain what is both expected of your child and not expected.
• Provide opportunities to reward your child for expected behavior.

Provide information visually
• Take pictures of relatives and friends you will visit, and practice names.
• Video modeling is considered an evidenced-based way to teach your child. Take videos of how to unwrap a gift the right way, thank a family member, or greet new people. Role play with your child and practice ahead of time.
• Use pictures to help your child communicate or make choices of what they would like to have or say.

Reduce anxiety
• Compile a list of activities that can help your child fill his or her time wherever you go.
• Use rehearsal and role play to give children practice ahead of time in dealing with new social situations, or work together to write a “social story” that incorporates all the elements of an upcoming event or visit to better prepare them for that situation.
• If you are going to visit family or friends, make sure there is a quiet, calm place for retreat.
• Try to relax and have a good time. If you are tense, your child may sense that something isn’t right.
• Don’t shield your child from the extended family. Family members need to understand the challenges you face.

By Kelly McKinnon, MA, BCBA, Director of Behavior Intervention at The Center for Autism  & Neurodevelopmental Disorders

The Center for Autism  & Neurodevelopmental Disorders is located at 2500 Red Hill Ave, in Santa Ana. For more information, please call 949-267-0400 or visit

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One thought on “Helpful Holiday Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”

  1. I liked your tip of using video modeling to teach a child with autism. My wife and I are preparing for the holidays and we were wondering how we were going to teach our son with autism how to unwrap presents. I’ll be sure to show him a video model on how to unwrap things.

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