November Newsletter | Preparing for Holiday Celebrations

202311_November Newsletter

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Preparing for Holiday Celebrations

The season of holidays, celebrations, and gatherings is upon us, and we’re eager to spend it with family and friends! For some people, this will involve traveling to new locations, visiting unfamiliar people, and engaging in cultural and family routines that don't occur on a daily basis.

While many of us thrive in the excitement of wintertime celebrations, for students with autism, these occasions can cause anxiety over unfamiliar circumstances. This can leave teachers wondering how best to support their students over the next few months. But questions—even unspoken ones—such as, "Who will be there?" or "What will I eat?" can be addressed with compassion and care. Check out the following tips to support your students as we enter this celebratory season!

1. Preparing for Change

The approaching holidays usher in a break from the comfort of school routines. You may notice your students beginning to express some challenging behaviors in anticipation of it. For some students, the upcoming changes may be social: trips to see distant family, gatherings at home, and the absence of a familiar schedule.

As teachers and support staff, you can accommodate your students by helping them to identify their feelings and concerns about the upcoming break. Try using our “Feelings Galore” discussion story (English | Spanish) to improve your students’ ability to express what they’re looking forward to and what’s troubling them. If some students need extra emotional support, connect them and their families with organizations in the community such as parent support groups and autism alliance programs. You can also ask your students simple questions using the student’s preferred mode of communication. Questions to start a conversation can include:

  • What are your concerns or worries about the upcoming break from school?
  • How can you tell your family or caregivers about your concerns?
  • What coping strategies can you use if you are having a tough time?

2. Traveling

Travel can be a wonderful part of the holidays, but staying somewhere unfamiliar can also be stressful and anxiety-provoking for children. You can help students’ families by giving them instruction on how to prepare for a stay away from home. Try recommending that they simulate travel ahead of time by checking out unfamiliar but close-to-home locations such as a hotel or a stay at a family friend’s house, even for a few hours. When caregivers make trips feel more familiar or normal for students, it can help ease future travel. Also, be sure to encourage parents to rehearse activities, including bathroom routines, and to remember to plan fun activities for extended trips. A great resource to prepare families for traveling to new places is our “We Are Traveling!” discussion story (English | Spanish).

For caregivers planning virtual holiday visits with family this year, prep them with our Video Chat sequence strip (English | Spanish)—this is a great way to help students who have challenges communicating with friends and family from afar! For more travel strategies, make sure to check out our Autism Annex podcast episode “Traveling Different.”

3. Safety

For some students, travel will include large-scale transportation such as a plane or train. Be sure to support caregivers by stressing the importance of their children wearing identification in the event of separation from their parent or caregiver. For students who are able to wear a bracelet, listing their name, caregiver’s name, and emergency contact phone number will suffice. Be sure to have caregivers include any information that might be necessary to keep children calm and safe until they are reconnected with their caregivers. For students who can’t wear a bracelet or similar item, we recommend pinning a small note on an inconspicuous and non-invasive place, like a shoelace or hoodie.

Equip caregivers with our “Lost in the Community” discussion story (English | Spanish) to practice safe travel behavior with their children.

4. Use STAR Home Supports

With the holidays looming, your students will soon be getting significant time away from practicing their behavioral skills in the classroom. But that doesn't mean these skills have to regress! Winter break can be a wonderful chance for students to practice their skills away from the school environment. Encourage your students’ caregivers to maintain consistency of their children’s behavioral skills at home. Help their families see the unique opportunity that the holidays present for generalizing skills across multiple settings and changes in routine.

One way you can support caregivers in at-home practice is with our mealtime visual resources. Check out this mealtime rules poster (English | Spanish) and tasting new foods choice wheel (English | Spanish) to help students navigate holiday meals with friends and family.