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Preparing Your Child For A Successful Chinese New Year (Reunion Dinner)

Following up from our blog article last year on Preparing your child for a successful Chinese New Year, there were three key tips we shared that greatly helps a child with autism be successful in a social setting:

  1. Preparation & Predictability
  2. Role Play
  3. Build your child’s level of tolerance (desensitization)

The article included tips on how to help prepare your child to greet and receive angpaos, to build tolerance to lion dancing and lastly how to cope in the shopping malls.

Chinese New Year is a time of celebration and joy for most families and for those who have children on the spectrum, it is still important to have a meaningful experience of Chinese New Year as a family.

This year’s resource article is focused on preparing your child for a successful reunion dinner or open house and to do this effectively, put yourself in the shoes of your child with autism. Try to see the whole event from his or her perspective.

1. Think through the reunion dinner and think about some potential challenges your child will face.

For example:

  • The crowd – in particular, if there are certain people that your child finds challenging to be around, or just the large crowd in general
  • The noise – in particular, if the TV is turned on, the crowd loudly talking or laughing
  • Any special event that may trigger your child to be upset – karaoke, the fireworks or lion dancing etc.
  • Any other behaviours that could be a concern for your child. e.g. if your child has a fixated interest in oranges or microphones etc

‍2. Think about the expected behaviours your child will be required to have.

  • Greeting elders or doing the Gong Xi Gong Xi motion
  • Receiving angpaos but not opening in front of people and saying ‘Thank you’
  • Participating in the Yee Sang toss
  • Sitting with the other children for dinner
  • Taking a family photograph

3. Think about how you can support your child to be as successful as possible.

Some suggestions are listed below:

  • Prepare a Social Story about the reunion dinner. This personalized story book needs to detail all the expectations of the meal, suggestions on coping strategies and activities that your child can do during the event.
  • Role Play & Practice. Practice specific portions of the reunion dinner that may be difficult for your child, like the Gong Xi Gong Xi action or receiving angpaos, family photograph or tossing the Yee Sang.
  • Prepare successful activities that will occupy your child during the event. Simple, structured and independent activities that your child likes to do are recommended as this can help occupy your child and calm your child down in the event he or she becomes a little anxious.
  • Arrive early at the event so that your child can familiarize himself/herself before the large crowd arrives. You could also practice visiting the venue a couple of times prior to the event to help desensitize your child to the new location.
  • Bring your own meal for your child if he/she has difficulty eating new and different foods, or eating in new environments.
  • Ensure that your child is well rested before the event.

4. Think also about changing or adapting the plans in order to set
your child up to be successful.

  • For example, if the reunion dinner is 3-4 hours long, stay for 1 and a half to two hours at max.
  • Leave before the difficult portions of the event begins, such as the lion dance or fireworks.

5. Lastly, be prepared for the worse with an exit plan if necessary.

In some situations, despite the efforts parents and therapists make to prepare our children, they may still struggle and may have a ‘meltdown’ where they may need to be removed from the situation. If this happens, try your best to redirect your child to an activity he or she will be successful at and if that fails and it continues to be very difficult for your child, then take a break by going to the car for awhile or going home.

It is important to reflect/debrief post the CNY Reunion Dinner or any event for that matter. As parents/therapists we need to identify what worked well for your child as well as what should have been done differently in order to help your child be more successful.

We hope you will have a meaningful quality family time this Chinese New Year. On behalf of all of us at EAP Malaysia, Gong Xi Fa Cai in advance!