Here are some simple steps to helping your guest or child with autism be more comfortable at holiday dinners.
1. Let the person know what to expect.
Let your autistic guest know in advance how many people will be there, what kinds of foods will be served, what to wear, what time dinner will be served, and when people will be heading home. You could even create a social story beforehand. Autistic individuals function much better when they know what to expect. For example, say, “Aunt Millie will be there, Uncle George and your three cousins, along with Grandma.” Information repeated can lower anxiety.
2. The more you stick to the schedule the better.
If you say dinner is at 3:00, try hard to have dinner at 3:00. You may prevent a meltdown.
3. Ask about dietary preferences.
Often, textures of certain foods and other sensory sensitivities can be a problem. Be aware if there are any dietary considerations, and perhaps serve some nontraditional holiday fare. We’ve been known to serve pizza alongside turkey!
4. Arrange for a quiet zone in your home.
When things get hectic, catching up on conversation becomes noisy, or young children are running around, it can become very overwhelming. If there is a spot where an individual can go that is a little bit quieter, the activities may be less stressful to the individual. (In the middle of a holiday gathering, haven’t we all wanted to retreat to a quiet zone for a few moments?)
5. Accommodate your guest.
It may be helpful to know if the individual has a preference for an activity, whether it’s watching a favorite video, going for a walk, drawing in a notepad, etc. Remember, everyone will be visiting and helping with preparations, and things can get fairly chaotic at times. Being able to do something familiar may be very comforting.
6. Don’t expect perfection.
Enjoy your time together, don’t set unrealistic expectations, and have fun.
Remember, we all are individuals and our differences can make our holidays even more enriching. Thank you for making an effort to bring families together during these special times.
President and Co-Founder