By Michael J. Cameron, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Chief Clinical Officer for, Pacific Child and Family Associates
The biggest holidays of the year are upon us. While some people can’t wait to participate in festive celebrations, those who have a loved one with autism may not share this same excitement. As the latter know, celebratory gatherings can be a great challenge for families containing a child with autism. The chaos and audio and visual stimuli can elevate anxiety and stress in a child with autism.
So what can parents do to lessen this stress? At Pacific Child & Family Associates, we work with families to practice the below tips:
- Communication among all involved: Having a plan that is communicated to your child, spouse, siblings, and the host of the party is critical to easing any possible challenges that may arise. It is important for your child to know what to expect and for all other people involved to understand your child’s needs and concerns. You can accomplish this by gathering information about a home you will visit including details of pets, other children, home security (in case your child has a history of wandering or leaving without permission), and food that will be served (if your child has food sensitivities).
- Assessing the location of the event: When communicating with the host, make sure to understand the environment your child will be in. Will there be pets? What type of food is going to be served? Will other children be present? Will they have entertainment for the kids? Having this information allows you to communicate this with your child and also prepare. If your child has particular food preferences, you can bring something that he or she would enjoy eating. Bring materials that your child will be highly interested in, including videos, electronics (iPad, Leapfrog, etc.), or anything that your child has a high motivation to play with due to lack of continuous access. You don’t want to put your child in a corner to self-entertain, however. Do try to create a medium for social interaction by giving him a role. Perhaps he likes magic tricks and can practice showing his tricks to others. You could also inquire about the interests of the other kids that will be in attendance to see if they have interests that might be intriguing for your child to learn. If that is the case, pre-teach your child to play and engage with the materials other children may enjoy (e.g., Beyblades Battle Dome). Again, it is important that whatever the plan, you should communicate to your child what they can expect.
- Preparing for religious services: Places of worship often have their own standards, practices and rituals, such as kneeling on a pew, taking shoes off, sitting on benches, and singing songs or praying. At home, you can rehearse these routines to make your child more comfortable in this new environment.
- Lessening the stresses of travel: For many people, travel can be frustrating and stressful, and for those with autism, it can be even greater. In preparing for an airplane or long car ride, you can bring activities that will keep your child comfortable for long periods of time. These items should be ones that the child is comfortable with, and can also be new things that are of your child’s taste and preference. You can also research for any restrictions (such as lack of internet) and practice required protocol (such as putting shoes/personal items in a bin).
DR. MICHAEL J. CAMERON
Dr. Michael J. Cameron, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (Charter Certificant 1-00-0010) is The Chief Clinical Officer for Pacific Child & Family Associates (PCFA) and experienced in the area of behavioral medicine, behavioral health assessment, intervention for diverse populations, and higher education. PCFA is an insurance accepting, national leader in the delivery of services for children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. PCFA services are provided in homes, schools, and in clinics across the United States. Prior to joining PCFA, Dr. Cameron was a tenured Associate Professor and the Founding Chair of the Department of Behavior Analysis at Simmons College. Dr. Cameron earned a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Northeastern University.