Preparing for Family Gatherings

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Scott Center

It’s very common for families to be stressed during the holidays. It can be especially overwhelming for families who have children with autism. Not only do you have to worry about managing your day-to-day tasks, you also have to be worried about whether you are keeping your child engaged and providing them the routine that they need.

Here are five tips for managing family gatherings:

  1. Prepare your Family & Friends

    Prepare family and friends who you’ll see during the holiday season. Explain the expectations that you have set for your child and what you expect from them when they interact with your child. Don't be afraid to tell people how to interact with your child. Explain how they should talk to your child. Discuss how they should play with your child. Talk about things that people may not know when interacting with a child with autism. It is better for them to know ahead of time what to expect than during the moment.

  2. Prepare your Child

    It's also important to prepare your child by telling them who they will see during the event. This may help your child feel more comfortable before going to a family gathering. Remind them of expectations, such as saying “please and thank you” to others. Ask what will make your child feel comfortable before the event to reduce the likelihood of problem behaviors or stressful situations.

  3. Prepare your Meal Time

    Parties and gatherings are NOT a good time to teach your children to eat new foods, so plan their menu before the event, either on your own or with the hostess. Also, it’s a good idea to have something that they can also engage with when the rest of the family is eating if the duration of the meal will be longer than usual. You may want to try and minimize the snacks that your child eats before mealtime so they will be eager to have their dinner. Remember that you can use preferred foods as rewards for eating. For example, you can use a cookie as a reward for eating vegetables if that works for your child.

  4. Keep them Entertained

    It’s important to keep your children entertained with preferred activities and toys while you are at your friend or family’s home. You may consider holding some special toys for those occasions. Perhaps it will be the only time your child gets to watch a DVD or play with an iPad, as a special treat. It is very easy for parents to forget about their child when there's a lot going on, so make sure that you check-in often and reward good behavior. When your child is playing nicely or interacting well, make sure you reward that with praise and hugs. You can also frequently switch up activities so they don't get bored with the same thing over and over again.

  5. Have Scheduled Check Ins

    Finally, have scheduled check-ins with your children. It's important to check in on your child often, so that you have opportunities to reward good behaviors. You may even want to set your reminders for yourself on your iPhone, so you don't forget to check in with them at specific intervals. If you find that your child is having difficulty, you may want to give them time to decompress and get away from the excitement.

This year, remember to plan ahead and enjoy your family time during the holidays. For more information, watch videos on