Preparing for Celebrations- The Plan of Attack

Part 1 of the Surviving the Holidays Series

Creating a plan for the holidays may seem counter-intuitive. Sometimes I have people say to me, “Shouldn’t you just go with the flow and ENJOY the holidays?” For parents of children with autism, developmental delay, or other diagnoses, the response to that question is often, “Hell no!” Having a plan of attack when entering a large family gathering that throws your little one into a new/different experience and out of routine, can not only prevent behavioral issues, it just might help you have that elusive feeling of “I’ve got this!”

Creating this plan will have multiple parts due to the way your family gatherings typically flow. Go through the entire experience in your head or on paper from your perspective and from your kiddo’s perspective. Begin at getting ready to leave home. Yes, that far back. The goal is to create structure for you and your kiddo so there will be little left for surprise. Once you have identified activities and situations that might be of concern to you, you can better prepare for them and then come up with a plan of how to address it if things go amiss. Here’s a list of some possible situations and questions that might apply to your family:

  • Departure from home
    • Getting dressed in holiday clothes (look out for itchy tags and materials!)
    • Loading up food and presents in the car
    • Driving to the gathering
    • How long will the travel time be?
  • Arriving to the location
    • Getting out of the car
    • Going into the location
    • Greeting everyone
    • What is the expectation for your child and in your family/in that group?
  • “Hangout time” before the meal
    • Play time for kiddo
      • Is there anything that is off limits to your kiddo?
      • What do they have to play with/do during this time?
    • Conversation time for adults
    • What sounds, smells, and sights will your child experience during this time?
    • Will you be giving your child a time warning before the end of playtime?
    • When is your child most likely to melt down?
  • Meal time
    • Everyone gathers to the table
    • Prayers are said/traditions are followed
    • Feast!
      • What does your child eat?
      • What is your child’s usual eating behavior?
      • Do they sit at the table?
      • How long will this meal time be?
    • After dinner
      • Is there a clean-up time where you will be busy assisting others?
      • Other religious or family traditions
        • How long will the traditions be? How can we involve your kiddo appropriately?
      • Opening presents
        • Will your child have to wait for presents?
      • Play time for your child
        • Is there anything that is off limits to your kiddo? What do they have to play with/do during this time?
      • Departure from the gathering
        • What time will you be staying until?
        • When is your child’s bedtime?
        • Will you be giving your child time warnings before you leave?
        • Will you have time to gather all your belongings and your child’s belongings before heading out the door?
        • How long is the drive back home?
      • Arrive at home
        • Will your child have their usual evening routine?
        • How will your kiddo wind down from the activity of the day?
        • When will your child be going to bed?
        • What if your child falls asleep in the car?
        • Where’s the wine for Mama and Daddy?

Identifying the flow of the evening will pinpoint the areas of challenge and specifically define what the problems might be. Knowing what to expect will help form your plan for the evening. We will go into helping your child know what to expect in the next post, Part 2 of the Surviving the Holidays series: “Let’s Talk about What to Expect”: Social Stories.

Writing the plan for the evening next to the “schedule” of your evening (it might be similar to the one seen above) is a great idea. It’s almost like breaking the experience down into small chunks so that it is not so overwhelming. Concentrate on each section and come up with a realistic response to each situation. Plan for hiccups. Bring toys/books/activities so they have appropriate things to do rather than get into Auntie’s drawers. Bring your kiddo’s communication materials (e.g., PECS binder, response cards, token economies, social stories, etc.) and use them often. Bring a meal for your child if they will not eat what is provided.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help! Talk to your Occupational Therapist about a sensory diet that works for your child, as what is alerting to one person might be calming to another. Talk to your ABA therapist or BCBA about addressing challenging behaviors. Check in with your family members that will be there that you can talk to. Talk to other parents, look at other blogs, do more research. As long as you bring your sense of calm (and maybe even a little optimism) and know that you, loving adult of your child, have nothing to fear and you are the expert on your child, you can survive this!

What are you doing for you and your kiddo to help make holiday celebrations go more smoothly?

Keep on planning!

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