AUSTIN, Texas — For families containing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the holidays can be a complicated time. For many, the idea of gathering with friends and family is an exciting one, but they may worry about ensuring gatherings are comfortable for their ASD child.
Deborah Lederman, MA, BCBA, LBA, director at BlueSprig Pediatrics Center in North Austin, says at BlueSprig, professionals teach children communication skills and adaptive living skills so that they're able to live a more independent life.
"We do all this really compassionately and we individualized each client's program to fit their needs. Everything we do is evidence based, which is pretty cool," said Lederman.
This holiday season, if you're hosting a party where you know a child with ASD will be attending, there are some things you can do to ensure they're comfortable. Lederman said because every child is different, first ask the family if they have any feedback or advice for you and your gathering.
"You can send photos of your house ahead of time and maybe even some of the guests that are coming to show the child, that way they're prepared for what they're going into, what they're going to see. Anything that's out of routine can be a little challenging for kids with autism. So giving them the most information up front about what they will be experiencing is really helpful," said Lederman.
Another idea is to ask if there's any sensory needs that the child has, as sometimes loud music can be overwhelming. Also, bright Christmas lights might be overwhelming too, so dimming lights down could be really helpful.
"Ask the parents to bring preferred toys for their child so they do have something to do. Another good idea is if the environment is too overstimulating, maybe designate one room in your house to be a cooldown, quiet room so that if the child does need a break, they can go and hang out in that space instead," said Lederman.
Some activities experts suggest that children with ASD may like is fake snow or sensory bottles. With sensory bottles, you can put different kinds of glitters that are holiday-themed so they can look at them and enjoy them that way. Also, if your household wants to get more comfortable hosting children with ASD, don't be afraid to ask their parents to babysit.
"Another great idea is to ask if you can watch the child with autism so the family can go out and get holiday gifts because sometimes just having a little extra child care during this time can be really, really helpful," said Lederman.
Autism spectrum is a very wide spectrum. Currently, it's categorized into three levels: level one, level two and level three. Level three includes children impacted the most, usually with less communication. Meanwhile, level one being the children that might just need more social skills.
"Always be welcoming to all families during the holidays. It's just so important to be inclusive. So even if a family turns down your invitation this year, try next year and just do whatever you can to help families with children with ASD feel welcomed in their communities," said Lederman.