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Navigating the Holidays with Autism: Part II: Family Gatherings

nav hoidays p 2Family gatherings are the number one sited source of stress during the holidays for families touched by autism. Leaving the safety of home, traveling (even if just across town), and being expected to eat certain foods in a strange environment can be enough to cause a full-blown meltdown.

When Family Comes to You

If family is visiting your home this holiday season, try to keep your autistic child’s routines the same, or as close to normal as possible. Your home is your safe havens, your child’s safe haven, make sure everyone who visits you knows the boundaries.

Gathering at a Strange House

Visiting family and friends for the holidays can be more stressful for an autistic child than staying at home, but preparing the child in advance can help. If you plan to visit someone’s house, which your child is unfamiliar with, consider a “practice” run. Take them to visit (if possible) in advance so they can become acclimating with the route and trip there, as well as the layout of the house and the people. Something as simple as knowing what to expect can go a long way to ease the child’s anxiety.

Finding a Place to Escape

Since your child will likely be around more people than usual, finding a place to escape can be a life-saver. Try to devise a plan in advance. Is there a quieter place your child can eat away from the crowd (bring your own food when you can—something they like), is there a place that your child can run, stim, and decompress? Remember that the child with autism has different needs than typical children, trying to have them sit at a table with adults, stay quiet, not stim, or eat strange foods can add to their stress level.

The holidays can be stressful—for anyone, but for those with special needs even more so. A little bit of planning, a little bit of talking, and a little bit of understanding this holiday season can go a long way. Understanding your child’s triggers, or your own, can help you plan. Talk to family and friends about your needs, and seek support. Navigating the Holidays with Autism: Part I: Thanksgiving with Picky EatersNavigating the Holidays with Autism: Part III: Gift Giving and SurprisesNavigating the Holidays with Autism: Part IV: Holiday Shopping TipsNavigating the Holidays with Autism: Part V: Beyond Gift Shopping—GroceriesNavigating the Holidays with Autism: Part VI: Grocery Shopping Online

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. I’m sharing this with an Autism grandparent!

  2. Good advice there.

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