The COVID-19 pandemic paired with the holiday season may create increased stresses for children and youth with autism.
Hands: the Family Help Network is offering tips for families of children with autism on how to help their child through the unconventional holiday season.
“They all really reflect around how you help a child or youth with autism manage change,” said Karen Miscio-Grattan, Interim Director of Autism and Behavioural Services at Hands. “I think this year, it’s an ever-more important concept given that we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Some of the tips Hands has laid out for the holiday season include: creating a visual calendar with what activities will happen when; clearly communicating the challenges the person with autism is facing to family and friends so things do not get worse; and a gradual decorating of the house.
Miscio-Grattan says during normal years, the holidays can already be stressful for children with autism.
“You think about that two-week block, there’s a lot of things that we’re asking our children and youth to experience in a short period of time,” she noted.
During this holiday season, Miscio-Grattan says changes in usual holiday traditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic can be alarming for children.
“The lack of familiar faces, the lack of familiar routines and traditions. It’s all about how you adapt those traditions into something new,” she said.
The pandemic as a whole has provided a new set of challenges for Miscio-Grattan and her team at Hands. She says there has been a “huge” increase in cases of children feeling heightened anxiety.
Miscio-Grattan adds the day-to-day changes the pandemic has brought on, such as wearing facemasks and using hand sanitizer, has also posed some challenges.
“Sometimes getting support for what might be perceived as ‘little adjustments’ is necessary for a child or youth who has an autism diagnosis. For them, it’s actually quite a big adjustment,” she said.
“You think about all the different hand sanitizer you come across in the course of one day, they’re all different consistencies. Some of them are gooey, some of them are not. For a child with autism, that can lead them to a very uncomfortable state,” Miscio-Grattan continued.
To help its members, Hands is inviting families to send their modified holiday traditions and tips to the organization’s Facebook page to be showcased.