By Connie Hammer

Are you a parent of a child on the autism spectrum? Do you want to reduce the potential for an emotional meltdown during the holiday season this year? Then take out your magic wand. That’s right – we all have a magic wand at our disposal but we often forget we have it and how to use it. The best way to minimize chaos and maintain a calm atmosphere in any family is to wave your magic wand and use your power to “communicate”. Maybe it doesn’t seem like magic but if used effectively, clear and thoughtful communication is the best weapon we have for preventing conflicts of any kind. Yes, basic human interaction, the same thing that causes conflicts in the first place can prevent them just as easily.

Failing to communicate our needs when we are perfectly capable is very different from trying but not being able to articulate our needs clearly. Autistic children usually fall into the latter category because of the challenges they have around language and using it to express themselves, which is where a lot of those tantrums, tears and uncontrollable behaviors come from.

End Child Anxiety

As for us adults, well, most of us have no excuse. We have the potential to communicate effectively but don’t always choose to utilize this amazing power to our benefit. Making assumptions that our family members can read our minds, or not listening to them fully when they speak to us, or not giving them our full attention, are ways in which we allow our communication to break down and cause problems.

ALL of this is avoidable, and the answer is right at our fingertips or should I say the tip of our tongues. If we want to minimize emotional meltdowns from occurring during the holiday season or any other time of year, either among us adults or our children, special needs or not, then we need to improve the way we exchange messages with one another. Never underestimate the power of communication to prevent potential battles, hassles, tantrums and tears especially when you are dealing with special needs children that thrive on clear, concise and factual information. So before your holiday begins and things start to take a wrong turn consider doing the following:

Talk about what you want this year. Get together with your spouse or partner and have a discussion about how you would like to see the holidays unfold. Once you have a good idea of what is best for your family present it to your children and invite them to add their input. If you have never had a family meeting before then this is a great time to start. Make a list of what each of you expect and what you are hoping for and take time to validate and examine each one.

Start early. Don’t wait until an event is only a day or two away before you begin to discuss it. Yes, there will be some things that happen spontaneously that everyone will have to try to accommodate but don’t make it a habit. The more you are able to plan ahead, the more predictable things will be for everyone. This provides consistency for a child with autism and goes a long way to minimize or eliminate any anxieties that may be forming.

Create a realistic plan. Now that you have all this input, take the time to discuss what is doable and what isn’t. Focus on the things that experience tells you will work and cross out the ideas that are unrealistic. As for the suggestions that fall somewhere in the middle, spend time talking about how you can make it work or not. Sometimes things just need a few adjustments to make them doable.

Record decisions. Put the final holiday ideas and plans down on paper. Better yet write it all down on a calendar that everyone can see and refer to. This works well for any child, especially children on the autism spectrum who tend to be visual learners. It helps them transition better when they know in a very concrete and literal way exactly what is coming up or happening on a particular day.

Evaluate often. Take the time to review the plans you created at regular intervals so that revisions can be made if need be. It is best to address possible roadblocks upfront and early on then to try to change plans at the last minute. Due to their well-known resistance to change, unplanned alterations or surprise announcements of a shift in routine do not bode well for children on the autism spectrum.

So remember to communicate your holiday wishes and create a plan with your significant other, but do it early! And even more importantly, encourage the rest of the family to express their thoughts as well! Finding out what each person wants out of their holiday has a very positive impact on mood and disposition because when everyone in the household feels heard, their happiness meter goes up. Happiness is contagious and will make everyone much more flexible and willing to tolerate someone else’s favorite holiday activity without whining, feeling ignored or dissolving into yelling match or temper tantrum number one hundred and one.

Imagine less worries and concerns as a parent with a child on the Autism spectrum… and more happiness and joyful times as a family. That’s what you get when have the support of Connie Hammer, expert parent educator, parent coach and behavior consultant. For more than twenty years, this licensed social worker has worked with families to uncover abilities and nurture family opportunities that bring more love, more fun and more contentment, regardless of disability, into their lives. You can contact her at

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