The holidays are almost here.

As a mom who raised one son with autism (now 33 years old) and one son with autism spectrum disorder (32 years old), I wanted to share some tips that may help other families with kids on the autism spectrum get through this holiday season with less stress and more joy.

1. Ask yourself: What is the MOST important thing during the season?

For me it was making sure my kids were happy. If I didn’t get the decorations or that package just right, no big deal! More importantly, will my child have a meltdown if he has to sit through seven hours of watching people unwrap their presents?

2. If it is important to them, it IS important to ME.

Are they happy in their room away from the crowd, listening to music or watching a movie? THAT is important.

3. DO NOT force your child to eat with everyone unless they want to.

Have their favorite foods available. If they sit for only a couple of minutes, be thankful.

4. Is there a favorite relative/close friend that can be present?

Even if they show up for a few minutes or a few hours before, during, or after the big day, it may mean the world to your child. Would that relative be willing to watch a movie with them, play video games, or otherwise engage in something the child loves to do?

5. Is there one special thing your child loves to do?

My oldest son with autism LOVED to unwrap presents VERY SLOWLY. So we would give him all his presents, and let him go at it. He was calm and happy, oblivious to others around him opening theirs. He also LOVED the blinking lights on the tree, so he would sit in the living room for hours.

6. Do you have family members that insist your child join them for everything?

I did and I just pulled them aside and politely talked to them about peace in the whole family. Would you rather see my child have a meltdown or have them happy?

7. Avoid taking your child shopping when you can.

Unless your child LOVES crowds and long lines (my son with ASD does, my son with autism does not), leave them at home when you shop if you possibly can. Even if it’s a “quick stop,” We all know how those turn out, especially this time of year.

Finally, a couple of parting thoughts:

  • If it’s not going well at someone else’s home, don’t feel guilty about having to leave early.
  • Go into the holidays with reasonable expectations.

To parents of children on the autism spectrum: How do you avoid stress and manage the special challenges that occur during the holidays? Feel free to comment below.