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Surviving the Holiday Period for the Neurodivergent Family: 3 Useful Strategies

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

The start of Term 4 is a reminder that Christmas and the holiday period are just around the corner. It can be such an exciting time to look forward to in a year.

Nonetheless, for many neurodivergent (ASD and ADHD) families, it can also mean sensory overload and a lack of routine and predictability. For families going on vacations, it would also mean adapting to changes – both predictable and unpredictable – which is often a red flag for meltdowns.

Here are 3 strategies to help you support your child or to help buffer them against the stress of the holiday season and vacation:

Be sensory-ready. Put together a sensory kit together with your child. The first category of things you should prepare in your kit should include tools to help your child cope with sensory overload, such as noise-cancelling headphones/earphones, sunglasses, caps and medication for motion sickness (depending on your child’s sensory needs and your holiday plans).

The second category of items to be included in the sensory kit is sensory/fidget tools that help your child self-regulate. Many children on the autism spectrum and/or children with ADHD are sensory driven and find certain repetitive actions calming. To give you an example of what it could look like, I have included a picture of the sensory toolkit at my practice below.

This is my kit at work, so it incorporates many sensory and fidget tools but you might want to prepare a smaller kit with items that are calming/appealing for your child, which might include things with scents they find soothing or chewy necklaces.

Be mindful of their energy levels. Neurodiverse children and teens tend to have difficulties with self-awareness and may not realise how much of their internal resources are being used throughout the day, until they are dangerously low.

This could put them at risk of a ‘social burnout’, or even going into a meltdown, as a result of exhaustion and feeling unable to cope with any more social or sensory input. Encourage them to have some quiet time to themselves regularly throughout the day or when they needed it.

Remember, even when your child is being engaged in activities that get them all excited, it can still exhaust their energy levels. It is definitely not limited to activities that you have to drag them along on.

Enhance their sense of control. Improve your child’s sense of control by offering him/her as much information about the family dinner or the overseas trip as you could. When they know what to expect, they can be more mentally prepared for it.

Include your child whenever you can in decision-making and offer them controlled choices (i.e., limited amount of options that sit in the range of what you can manage or accept). Here are some examples:

“Should we go there by train or by bus?”

“Do you think it’s better to have an indoor or outdoor Christmas lunch?”

I hope you would have a well-deserved break with your family and enjoy the holiday season! If you would like more support to prepare yourself or your child for the holiday season, you are more than welcome to contact me to book in for a session using the information on the Contact Us page.

© Jasmine Loo Psychology 2019

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