How am I supposed to keep my autistic child busy for 5 weeks over the December holidays?

Keeping an autistic child busy over the holidays doesn’t need to have you running for the hills.  Yes we know that you will need to do some planning and you will need to take their basic sensory and physical needs into considering when you are on outings but when you are at home, just remember a few basic words of wisdom:

  1. Keep your child busy by giving them a wide variety of activities during the day. Autistic children are not great at keeping themselves busy and many years of experience has taught me that a “naughty” autistic child is a bored autistic child.
  2. Behaviour is triggered by many things but two of the biggest are going to be the Sensory Profile of the Autistic Child and Anxiety – so know your own child’s limits and don’t push them.
  3. Avoid over stimulating your child – this applies to family outing and decorations as much as what it applies to toys – lots of lights, sounds, moving parts and a toy that is too complicated for their development age.
  4. Make space for “quiet time activities”. Quiet time will apply to a quiet place away from crowds or music but it will also apply to talking.  Prepare a calm space inside your home for your child to play games in.  A place where he/she can just be alone and decompress.
  5. Don’t over engineer activities – what may seem like the most basic of activities will most likely be an ideal activity for your autistic child. If your child is more advanced and has verbal autism then allow them the opportunity to help choose their activities.
  6. Bring in a variety of sensory activities – no matter if you are away or at home allow your child to engage in a variety of sensory games and activities during the course of the day.
  7. Get physical – running, jumping, dancing, rolling, swimming or anything physical needs to be incorporated into the day and at regular intervals.
  8. Be sure to remember the rule: “Too much of a good thing is never a good thing for our autistic children!” This will apply to everything from swimming, to jumping or time in front of an iPad or television.  Rather let the child swim 5 times a day for 15 minutes at a time then allow him/her to be in the pool for an hour at a time.
  9. Allows creativity in play – not everything needs to be in accordance with the instructions on the box.
  10. Positive reinforcement – a high fives and “well done I am proud of you” will help build your child’s learning and playing confidence. Congratulate for effort and not just for result.  What we mean by this is that a child’s effort should always be validated even if they did not do the activity 100% correct and the way it was meant to be done.

Our last few words of wisdom is most likely the most important to remember.  Children with Autism can be master manipulators and if you do not have structure and rules in place you will have a torrid time this festive season.    Your “no” has to remain “no” even if the tantrum is epic and public.  Do not get into a situation of “rewarding for bad behaviour” – not even if it provides you sanity for 5 minutes.

Happy Holidays to you all…

Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.