How to successfully prepare children with autism for a holiday

By November 15, 2016 December 31st, 2018 No Comments


With the holidays just around the corner, this can be an exciting time or a daunting time for families with children with autism. It is important to remember that new places and changes can be very challenging for a child with autism. However, with sufficient preparation and practice, they can potentially have a great time!

Here are some tips for you to prepare your child for a successful holiday:

Before the trip

  1. Set and confirm the dates, location and agenda in advance.
  2. ‍Communicate expectations utilising visuals:

stories provide predictability aside from communicating expectations to your
child. Here is a list of things you should include in your social story:

  • A calendar with the start and end
    date of the trip. You can use the calendar as a countdown prior to the trip,
    and also during the trip.
  • Where he/she will be going
  • Where he/she will be staying
  • Who will he/she go with
  • How he/she will be going (plane,
    bus, car)
  • The agenda of the trip. For
    example: On Day 1, Sarah will be visiting the zoo.
  • The expected behaviour throughout
    the trip. For example, having hands nice, having quiet mouth.
  • Rewards for good behaviour
    throughout the trip.

We have prepared a sample of a social story that you can download for free here!

Also, do
remember to show your child videos and pictures that are relevant to your trip,including
places and people.

  1. Role Play

It is
important that in addition to communicating expectations to your child, you
also role play scenarios that will be particularly difficult. This is to help
desensitise your child to that situation and hopefully reduce the anxiety
associated as well as build up an excitement about the new experience.

Some examples
that should be practiced include going to the airport, boarding the plane, or entering
a new place. As a parent, get yourself involved in role-playing with your
child. Practice appropriate behaviour such as greeting others, staying together
with parents, having nice hands, listening to parents.

Set up
stations around the house indicating the different destinations. Do this to
communicate the expectations of the trip. Remember to reinforce him/her when
he/she demonstrates the appropriate behaviour!

During the trip

Bring the
social story along and read it the day before the trip and on the day itself. Communicate
to your child again the agenda for the day. Remember, the more prepared your
child is, the less anxious he/she will be.

For early
leaners (children who are non verbal or who have very minimal speech), have a small
visual schedule prepared to show them the agenda for each day. Reinforcement is
important every time your child demonstrates the appropriate behaviour.

intermediate learners (children with emerging speech), you can have a written
schedule as well a social story during your trip to communicate clear
predictability for your child. Reinforcement is also very important.

advanced learners (children with fluent speech), a written schedule would be
recommended during the trip. Parents can also give them social feedback on what
went well during the trip and go through the areas that they can do better.

Also, be
prepared with activities to occupy them during unstructured times. For example, busy packs, books and simple activities like colouring and matching. These
activities will also come in handy in the event there is a meltdown or tantrum.
We would advise all families to be prepared for the worst so that you have an
action plan in the event that happens. For example, if you are visiting a new
place and your child starts to have a tantrum, plan with your spouse that
one of you will bring your child back to the car to calm down or to go back to the
hotel room.

At the
end of each day, read the social story again to communicate that the day has
ended and countdown the number of days left before the end of the trip. This
tip is very important as your child may be having so much fun, it may be hard
to leave the holiday!

We hope that
these tips can help you and your family to go on a successful holiday! Happy
holidays from all of us at EAP Malaysia.

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