Discover tricks from real parents

Whether you have a special needs child or you're simply looking for ways to streamline the holidays for your family, these tips will help you with holiday gatherings and managing stress.

Parents of kids with autism are experts when it comes to tips and tricks for managing holiday gatherings. MyAutismTeam.com is a social network for parents to share the experience of parenting children with autism. Even if your child doesn’t have autism, you can learn from these holiday tips.

Communicate with friends and family

During the holidays, you’ll find yourself playing catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen recently. It can be difficult to sum your child’s needs in a quick conversation over appetizers, but don’t let that discourage you. Co-founders Eric Peacock and Mary Ray of MyAutismTeam.com share their tips. “Ask your family and friends if there is an area in the house that your child can play. Sometimes it's better for your child to take refuge in a private/quiet area and stay away from chaotic activities.” You know what your child needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. It may feel like you’re inconveniencing friends and family, but they’ll value your family’s needs.

Plan for dietary and allergy issues

“Tell your family and friends to not be offended when you bring your own food for your child,” the MyAutismTeam.com co-founders say. Whether your child has a food allergy, a sensitivity or sensory issues surrounding foods, it’s perfectly fine to bring food you know your child will eat. This gives you peace of mind and allows you to focus on celebrating instead of stressing about meal time. Be polite but firm, and prepare yourself for relatives and friends who may not understand your child’s needs. If someone argues with you or makes a comment about your parenting style, ignore it and roll with what you know is best.

Find healthy recipes for picky eaters with autism >>

Schedule activities that play to your child’s strengths

As you plan your Christmas activities, structure them around your child’s strengths. The holidays aren’t a good time to try new activities or push your child into a situation that generally causes him distress. If your child enjoys visual stimulation, drive around looking at Christmas lights. If he’s very sensitive to noises, bring along noise-canceling ear muffs when attending events like parades and caroling. Don’t be afraid to make your own traditions that play on what your child loves doing best, such as messy baking or a quiet movie at home. Ask your local shopping mall if they have an autism-friendly Santa day scheduled. Many areas now offer events that cater to children on the spectrum.

Find out what to do if your kid doesn't fit in >>

Embrace flexibility as much as you can

Children with autism often crave strict routines. Routines can be soothing, can help avoid meltdowns and can help kids adhere to behavior expectations. Every child responds well to routines, and during the holidays, those routines are often shattered. With this in mind, pick your battles. A late bedtime or an activity you don’t always allow won’t be the end of the world. Try to stop and think about what’s worth stressing over and what you need to put your foot down over.

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