Over the years when we get together with other parents of children with autism, we joke that we used to have a social life and we have pictures to prove it! In reality, although it is true that it is harder to participate in family and social gatherings, it can be done. Gatherings can be overwhelming, and attending with your child requires a certain amount of preparation on both ends, depending on the type and size of the gathering. This is a balancing act between making your child comfortable, making the other guests and the host comfortable, and ensuring you will be invited back. Here are some guidelines:
- Prepare your relatives and friends about how your child might act and what it means. For example, if your child runs immediately out of the room when there are more than a few people, explain that it is not personal, but that your child cannot tolerate noise because his hearing is oversensitive.
- Make sure they understand that your child is not "misbehaving" but that you will be keeping an eye on him and you are teaching him to control his behaviors, but it takes time.
- If there are breakable items sitting around, you may want to ask if you can move them out of reach.
- Ask which rooms or areas are "off-limits" and make sure you enforce that.
- Just like a designated driver, you need a designated child watcher. If you are going with another adult, decide who will be keeping an eye on your child, and when.
- If your child is on a particular diet, you will need to bring plenty of food that she is fond of. Depending on how well you know the others and how they may react, you might ask about not leaving certain foods out to munch on, and bring something to share that all can enjoy.
- Look at the traveling tips, and follow some of the ideas to familiarize your child with what is going to happen and who he is going to see, such as showing pictures and talking about who is going to be there and the schedule of activities for the day. If you anticipate noise, make sure you tell your child a few times in the days ahead. If you know certain holiday music will be played, you can put some on at home every day for a short while so the child can get accustomed to it.
- Bring some familiar toys and favorite items to make the child feel comfortable and more at home.