Kids Health Matters: Autism and the holidays

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The lights, the sounds, the foods and the holidays are exciting enough for children, but for those on the autism spectrum, they can be especially challenging.

Many children have difficulty with changes in their daily routine that holidays bring.

And then there are the intense experiences around them.

Stephanie Cassidy is an occupational therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

She says, "There'll be more lights, there'll be louder music, there'll be more smells, like cookies and different fragrances. If your child already has difficulties in these areas, this can make it even more difficult."

Cassidy also says parents should be selective about the activities their kids will take part in.

Try to maintain a normal sleep schedule and a healthy diet, despite all the holiday temptations.

Before going to an event, parents and children should talk about what's coming up or even practice those situations.

"If they have a sensitivity to noise, practice ahead of time - play Christmas music, see how they can cope with that loud noise," said Cassidy.

If you'll be hosting a child on the autism spectrum, ask the parents ahead of time what you can do to make the stay more enjoyable.

"This might include providing them with a list of activities the children may be doing. Many children with autism have trouble transitioning between one activity and the next," said Cassidy.

Some children with autism also tend to act more impulsively, or be unaware when they get into unsafe situations.

Be careful if you are staying in unfamiliar locations.

Tips for those situations, Cassidy adds, include "making sure the parents are aware of how many exits there are, and also just getting in a better habit of locking the door after each guest."

Holiday-time tantrums can happen with any child, but meltdowns might be longer or more intense for kids with autism.

Cassidy urges parents to enjoy the happy moments, and put the frustrating ones in perspective.

Above all, she says, "remember to have a good time."

For more information on autism, visit the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia website.
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