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4 tips to help kids who have autism enjoy the long winter break
Winter break can be an exciting time. But it comes with changes in routine that can challenge kids who have autism. Here's how parents can help.
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Let your kids fail. To learn self-sufficiency, kids need to occasionally dust themselves off (literally and figuratively) without your help. "Most parents know what their children are capable of but step in to make things easier for them," says Sheri Noga, the author of Have the Guts to Do It Right: Raising Grateful and Responsible Children in an Era of Indulgence. Remember: Long-term benefits—a teenager who knows how to do her own laundry, for example—trump momentary discomfort. Before you rush in to help with any physical task, ask yourself: "Is my child in real danger?" Then—and this applies to other challenges, like the social studies poster due tomorrow—think about whether your child has the necessary skills (dexterity and balance) or simply adequate sleep and a snack. Yes? Time to back off and see what happens.
Winter break can be such an exciting time of year for families. In households across the country it means a break from school, special events and plenty of family time.
These seasonal privileges also come with challenges, especially for kids who have autism, because they also mean changes in routine, diet and sleeping habits. Winter break can mean boredom or too much stimulation.
To help parents get their kids through the break smoothly, we put together some tips that will help kids of all abilities.
Adjust your normal routine, then stick to it
The first step in making the holidays pleasant and enjoyable is to establish a routine your child will understand. The key is to have a plan for each day, make sure you explain the plan ahead of time, remind them of the plan throughout the day. If you have a younger child, you can make a picture schedule (it doesn’t have to be fancy) for the day. For older children, you can write a schedule. If the schedule has to change, it’s not the end of the world. Just make the change for them visually on their schedule and explain why. This works wonders!
Savor the moments. Yes, parenthood is the most exhausting job on the planet. Yes, your house is a mess, the laundry's piled up, and the dog needs to be walked. But your kid just laughed. Enjoy it now - it will be over far too fast.
Also: Don't forget to incorporate sleep times into the schedule.
Keep healthy snacks on hand
Changes in routine inevitably mean changes in eating habits. One simple fix is to have healthy snacks at home and when you're out and about. This will limit the temptation for your children to eat foods that are not good for them. Foods with too much sugar and dyes can affect mood, behavior and sleep.
Combat boredom with planned activities
This goes hand-in-hand with creating a routine. Without a routine and plenty to do, your child is going to bombard you with “I’m bored!” You can head-off boredom by playing games, baking goodies (in moderation to avoid a sugar overload) or going outside. You could also enroll them in an appropriate local camp or activity group.
Travel with care
Nothing changes a routine faster than holiday traveling. TSA security lines, long car rides, or sitting on an airplane are all major deviations from a normal day. Again, planning is key. Remind your child of what will be happening before and while traveling. If possible, use visuals or tell a story about the entire process. You can even search for videos online that will model how to behave and what to expect while in an airport or on an airplane.
Separate your needs from those of your children. They can’t live your dreams.
Tara S. Boyd, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who has worked with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) since 1996. She is currently the executive director at Ally Pediatric Therapy, which provides autism therapy for families in the metro Phoenix area.
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