How to successfully prepare children with autism for a holiday

 

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:

Social 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.

For 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.

For 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.