The holidays are super fun, but they can also be ridiculously stressful for autistic children.
There’s overwhelming events filled with new bright lights, loud music, strange foods, and people.
So. Many. People.
Not to mention that nearly every routine is changed or completely thrown out from November to January.
School has weird breaks, you have dinners at weird times, you eat different snacks, and visit people you hardly ever see…
And then after New Years, everything just stops.
Suddenly in January, you go back to school, your bedtime is back to the normal time, you are expected to eat normal foods (instead of endless amounts of sugar cookies…) and the entire process can be jaunting.
So it’s no surprise that autistic children struggle to recover after the holidays, but that doesn’t mean that parents have to just throw up their hands and hope that things fall into place.
(Or at least fall into place until Spring Break comes around and throws you for a loop again)
See, there are 3 vital steps that parents can take to help autistic children recover from the holidays.
And these tips will help you ease back into your day-to-day “normal” routine, and hopefully avoid some holiday meltdowns along the way.
3 Vital Steps to Help Autistic Kids Recover From the Holidays
Before I jump into the practical steps, I want to take a moment and talk about mindset.
I know, you might have rolled your eyes and thought that I am about to get super woo, but I promise we won’t go too far.
Here’s the deal. I’m talking about how the holidays are tough for your autistic children.
But I’m not going to ignore that they may not have been sunshine and rainbows for you either.
You might be rushing back to routine because you are feeling anxious and out of control, and I want you to know that’s valid.
So instead of focusing on getting back on routine as the thing that will help you feel ‘back to normal’, think about finding normalcy through the process.
You are taking the steps that will get you back to your everyday routine. And you and your child are both doing your best.
Be as patient with yourself as you are with your autistic child.
#1 Decompress Before Jumping Back Into Life
So the very first step to helping your autistic child recover from the holidays is to decompress before jumping right back into life as normal.
The holidays are full of hustle and bustle, and it’s important to take time to decompress and relax before putting any demands on our children.
Kids spend the entire holiday season doing everything they can to stay in control, and then right after New Years, we throw them back at school before ever giving them time to fill their cup.
Take time to have no expectations. Take time to rest. Take time to play with their favorite toys and watch their favorite shows.
I know it might seem like you just had a long vacation, but sometimes you just need to take a vacation from your vacation.
#2 Plan for Sensory Needs First
Okay, now that you’ve taken some time to decompress, the second step to helping autistic children recover after the holidays is to plan for their sensory needs.
The holidays are straight up a sensory nightmare.
Even as an adult who’s been managing my sensory needs for a long time, I really struggle this time of year.
I spend a large portion of family holiday parties hiding in a corner and talking to my brother while Chris and my ex-husband do the “fun stuff” with the kids.
Kids running around screeching, my nephew rolling around on the floor because he’s a spy (or something?) and all the beeps, boops, and shout-singing from the new toys with fresh batteries is enough to send me over the edge.
And it’s the same for your autistic child.
They might get overwhelmed by different sensory experiences than me, but friend, their body is getting overwhelmed with sensory input, and often it’s missing some of the sensory input it needs.
So go back to basics here.
Is your child a sensory avoider or sensory seeker?
What sensory activities help them calm down when they’re overwhelmed or ramped up or anxious?
How can you build those activities into your day before you head back into routine?
Take a day or two to really be intentional about meeting your child’s sensory needs to help them get (and stay) regulated.
#3 Ease Into Normal, One Routine at a Time
The final way to help your autistic child recover after the holidays is to ease into ‘normal’, one routine at a time.
I know, you want to jump back into your everyday routine. The whole ‘new year new you’ stuff is pulling at you to do ALL THE THINGS.
But you and your child will have a much easier transition back into daily life if you ease back in one small routine at a time.
Maybe you start with a familiar bedtime routine.
Maybe you start by eating pizza on Fridays like you normally do.
Maybe you start with your morning routine.
But only start with one.
And I’m going to encourage you to take this process slowly.
I’m doing this right now with my autistic son, and we’re working on easing back into our homeschool routine.
Yesterday, we sat at the table after breakfast and colored a picture.
Today, we are reading a book (that he’s read dozens of times).
Tomorrow maybe we’ll use one of his learning apps.
We’re taking it slow and easing our way into our routine one step at a time.
I know this process seems tedious. I know you might roll your eyes and think ‘I can’t take a full week recovering from the holidays!’
But let me tell you… Either you take this process seriously and ease back into your normal routine, or you rush back to ‘normal’ only to deal with meltdowns and ‘misbehaviors‘ leaving you completely frustrated.
And I know that’s not where you want to be.
So take your time. Ease back into things. And remember, be as patient with yourself as you are with your autistic child. This time of year is rough on all of us!
If you loved this post, you should also check out…