Navigating the Holiday

Friday December 20, 2019 at 2:15 PM


Navigating the Holiday

The December issue of Metro Parent highlights an interview with Gateway’s Director of Adolescent Services, Frank Pinkham, MSW, BCBA. This article provides guidance to families that have children on the autism spectrum who plan on attending a holiday gathering away from home. He understands these experiences can create an increased level of anxiety for the child and the family as a result.

In Frank’s opinion, planning ahead and providing the child with details about what to expect at the party can help decrease this anxiety. This can be as simple as explaining when and where they will be going, who will be there, and what activities are planned. It would be great if families are able to go over these details days before the gathering and rehearse as the gathering approaches. Frank explains, “Essentially, they [the family] give the child an outline of what the event will entail so he or she can begin to process it on the front end thereby lowering anxiety that comes along with the novelty.”

Even the commute to the gathering can be difficult depending on the distance. Frank suggests allowing the child to bring a preferred item in the car or having a fun movie to watch on the way. If it’s a really long commute bringing the child’s favorite snack can also helpful. Snacks are great because food at holiday parties is often not typically prepared throughout the year. Many children are resistant to trying new foods and because holiday parties should be a fun experience, allow your child to pick different foods to bring so they can enjoy their meal as well.

Frank goes on to say, “If I had to name one single stressor that I hear most from parents, it’s the worry about how family members will react to the child with ASD.” If holiday gatherings are challenging for the child, reaching out to family members ahead of time and explaining what to expect and how to react can limit confusion if a difficult situation should arise. Information such as: areas in the house where the child can “take a break”; social situations that overwhelm the child; and how to react when there is a difficult situation can be important details to talk about before the party begins. In Frank’s words, “It’s absolutely acceptable to talk to family ahead of time about allowing you to set family boundaries for your child to get through the gathering. Parents are experts on their own children.”

Gateway is proud to have clinicians like Frank on our team that are always willing to help families navigate difficult situations. If you would like to read this article in its entirety click on this link: Metro Parent.

We hope you all have a safe and fun holiday season!

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