Tips for a Great Holiday Visit with Autistic Family Members

Posted by Bonnie Arnwine on Nov 7th 2019

You have a family member with autism coming to visit you. That's great! Visiting with family is a wonderful holiday tradition. For family members with autism, this can be an enjoyable time, but also very stressful. If you will be having a family member on the autism spectrum visiting your home soon, there are a few practical things you can do to encourage a positive visit. 

Understand Change is Stressful 

Most individuals on the spectrum thrive with a consistent routine. In a world where there are often many communication challenges, routines and familiar environments provide security and comfort. Understand that while visiting, your autistic family member may be under extra added stress. This can make their behavior seem odd or lead to tantrums that might not normally happen while they are at home. If you understand this ahead of time, you can support a positive experience for everyone. 

Follow the Caregivers Lead 

The parent or primary caregiver is very familiar with your family member. If they begin to respond quickly to a situation, please don’t assume they are over reacting. Often people on the autism spectrum start to display subtle (or not so subtle) signs of stress, that can lead to escalating problem behavior. If the caregiver sees these signs, they will want to act quickly to avert problem behavior. Please be supportive and don’t question their actions. Instead ask “is there anything I can do to help you?” 

Prepare a Safe Place 

Often the most loving thing you can do when an autistic family member is under stress is provide a safe quiet place. Try to make a space in your house that is quiet and has a few familiar objects that your autistic family member enjoys. Soft lighting can also be a nice touch. If you don’t have access to familiar items, try to provide some calming items like a vibration pillow, soothing rhythmic lighting (the tranquil turtle is a favorite), or some small fidget toys

Prepare Some Familiar Foods 

Food can be so comforting. Find out ahead of time what your family member’s favorite foods are. Make sure to have some familiar snacks available. New and specialty foods that are outside of your family member’s routine can be stressful, instead of comforting. 

If your family member won’t try something new, please don’t be offended. Remember those on the autism spectrum rely on routine and consistency; they take great comfort in this. This rule also applies to food. The real goal is to build family relationships while visiting. Keep the real goal in mind and be flexible with food. 

Supportive family relationships are important to everyone. Your family members on the autism spectrum need you. We hope these tips will help you have a wonderful time building those relationships.

If you are looking for the perfect gift check out our Gift Guide.