Surviving the Holidays
The holiday season is often challenging for most of us. For our family members with special needs, it is even more stressful. We need to employ all of our “social thinking skills” during this season when we are attending parties, family gatherings, shopping, traveling, etc. How can we do this gracefully and comfortably?
What are social skills anyway? I prefer to think of using social skills as “social thinking” or using my “flexible” thinking brain. Social thinking, as defined by Michelle Winner, SLP, is the ability to adapt effectively to the people and situations around us. (www.socialthinking.com) These are ever changing, so we can’t teach our children exactly what to do in each situation, as no two situations are the same! Social skills are not really “skills”, but rather the ability to employ “flexible thinking” across environments. If our social perception is impaired, or if we have sensory challenges, this flexibility in thinking about others can be exceptionally difficult. Below are some tips/reminders to use during this busy and exciting time of year.
1. Set a Routine
At all costs, employ a routine when there is no routine. Many of our children’s lives are turned upside down. They are out of their normal routine, ie., school is closed, guests are visiting, we are traveling to strange surroundings. As the parent, it is your job to set a routine for the days of “no routine”. For example: keep consistent mealtimes, employ a regular bedtime. Use your social thinking to think “how might my child feel with his/her disrupted routine.
2. Use Visual Strategies
Telling what will happen by using pictures or written words will help greatly to build predictability. No surprises is the best way of thinking. Do not assume that when you tell your child what will happen, they will remember. VISUAL is the key word.
Create lists for bedtime, what to take in the car, places you’ll visit.
- Create travel books-showing the sequence of the day’s events
- Provide schedules
- Give choices
- Build in rewards
- (See usevisualstrategies.com for specifics on creating visual schedules.)
3. Take Your Time
In preparing for new events, give yourself extra time to get ready and get going. For example, going to see Santa can be exciting for some, and it can be a scary nightmare for others. Using visual strategies and talking about events well in advance can help to ease anxiety. Use pictures and role play to get your child ready for the experience. Write social stories
(www.carolgray.com) about what is most likely going to occur.
Talk about the possibilities (e.g., long line, lots of people) to prepare for being flexible.
4. Don’t Ask For Performance
Do not ask your child to perform for relatives. Since they are already “stressed “ by all the changes of the season, allow them to “be”. Don’t ask them to “Show Grandma how you….”
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