6 Keys to Successful Family Gatherings with Kids on the Autism Spectrum

A family gathering can often be a stressful event for both kids on the autism spectrum and their parents. Birthday parties, family barbecues, and holiday gatherings are all stressful events for families with a child on the Autism Spectrum. Things such as changes in schedule, possible breaches in restrictive diets, unpredictable environments, and misunderstanding family members are just some of the reasons that may lead you to consider skipping the next family event.

With some specific planning and preparation, you and your family can successfully enjoy your next family event! It is so important for parents and kids on the autism spectrum to join together with family during times of bonding. Doing so gives your child a chance to connect with people who love them and want the best for them, it helps family members understand your child (and hence other people on the spectrum), and it gives you a chance to spend quality time with the adults in your life.

Here are 6 ways to prepare for your next family gathering:

Talk to Your Child Before the Event

In the week leading up to the event, start to talk to your child about it. This can be as simple as “On Tuesday we are going to grandpa’s”. You can tell them about what will happen and what you will do there (“There will be a quiet ceremony, then we will eat dinner outside.”).

Prepare Your Child for the Event

  • Read stories about the upcoming holiday or special occasion.
  • Look at pictures and watch videos of similar events on the internet (I have searched for examples of everything from jump houses to Bat Mitzvahs).
  • Read a Social Narrative specifically written to help your child prepare for the upcoming event. (Click here to get one started)
  • Practice social interactions that your child can use at the party (saying hello, showing pictures from their life to others, asking questions, etc.) Family events are great opportunities for your child to use social skills that they are learning at school or at home.

Count Down to the Event

Put the event on a separate or family calendar and cross off the days until the event. This will help your child understand the change in schedule and prepare for the event.

Get Excited!

Tell them about all the positive things that will be there (favorite relative, music, balloons, etc.).

Make a Plan

  • Inform your child about possible challenges they may face at the event (loud music, cake that they cannot eat, chaotic environment, etc.).
  • Come up with alternative or coping behaviors that will help your child make good choices and have a good time (wear earplugs, bring their own food, stay close to their sibling, etc.).
  • Create and take a ‘success kit” with everything your child may need at the event (headphones, snacks, fidgets, favorite toys, books, etc.)

Educate Family Members

Make your family aware of any plans or strategies that you use to support your child (including dietary restrictions, specific language to use, triggers to avoid, etc). You can even share a video of you using the strategy at home to show the strategies’ positive effects for your child.

Contact Us

If you need help figuring out what supports your child needs or how to implement any of the strategies above, we can help! Contact us for a consultation and to get personalized tools for your child’s success.

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