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10 Ways to Support Families of Children with Autism this Holiday Season

For many of us, the holiday season is a wonderful time of the year – a time to get together with friends and family, enjoy favorite foods, decorate our homes, and exchange gifts. But it can also be a stressful season when you have too much to do and too little time – especially for families who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or another developmental disability.

If you have friends or family members who are raising a child with special needs, there are things you can do to help.

Hanna C. Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is Executive Director of the National Autism Center at May Institute, located in Randolph, Mass. Dr. Rue offers some suggestions on how you might be able to make the holidays a little easier for these families:

1) Volunteer to babysit while parents shop or attend holiday functions.

2) Offer to take the sister or brother of a child with special needs to a holiday event that s/he might otherwise miss because his or her sibling cannot attend.

3) Give parents the gift of time by presenting them with “coupons” they can use throughout the year for services such as babysitting or house-cleaning.

4) Ask the parents what kinds of gifts their son or daughter might like to receive. They will know which toys or books would be developmentally appropriate and most enjoyable for their child.

5) If you are hosting a party or a dinner and including a child with ASD, try to keep the gathering small, as large crowds can be overwhelming.

6) Do a “safety check” of your home to make sure that breakable ornaments, lit candles, and other hazards are out of the child’s reach. You may also want to put jingle bells on your doors to act as alerts to adults if the child tries to exit unattended.

7) When hosting, set up a “break room” in an extra bedroom or another quiet place in the house that the child can retreat to if s/he needs time away from all the noise and activity.

8) When planning a festive menu, check with the child’s parents to find out what foods he or she may prefer, or invite the parents to bring the child’s favorite food with them.

9) You can also help by volunteering at schools or organizations that serve children with ASD and other special needs.

10) And please consider donating to organizations that conduct research on treatments for autism or organizations that implement evidence-based treatments!

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