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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Autism-Friendly Holiday Events and Ideas

The holidays can be "the most wonderful time of the year" or a month-long stress-fest, especially for families of children with special needs. Fortunately, there are several wonderful autism-friendly events that families can enjoy this holiday season, as well as some great tips on how to survive the holidays (including tips you can pass along to extended family members!).

December Holiday Events:

A Visit With Santa:
The Arc of Orange County is hosting a Visit With Santa party as the kick off to their annual Festival of Trees fundraiser event. Kids are invited to come and have pictures taken with Santa, enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, decorate ornaments, make holiday cards, and more. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012
The Sheraton Chapel Hill 
One Europa Drive, Chapel Hill, NC

For more information, contact Robin Baker at 919-942-5119 ext. 117 or email rbaker@arcoforange.org.

Cookies and Cocoa With Santa for Children With Special Needs:
This is the Family Support Network's annual free holiday event, which is supposed to be a lot of fun! Take pictures with Santa, receive a gift, make holiday crafts, play games, and enjoy treats.

Saturday, December 8, 2012
Grey Stone Baptist Church (in the Family Life Center)
2601 Hillsborough Road, Durham, NC

For more information, download the flier, contact FSN at 919-560-3000 or email Susan at susan@familysupportonline.org.

Autism-Friendly Santa Visits:
Santa America is a national non-profit that makes it possible for children with special needs to enjoy the Christmas tradition of a visit with Santa. They have over 200 Santas around the country that make personal visits to homes, hospitals, and hospices. There is no charge for the visits. They even have a special division of autism-trained Santas!

There are 3 Santa America Santas in the Triangle region of North Carolina - 1 in Durham and 2 in Raleigh. They are scheduled for hospice and hospital visits on December 9th and 10th, 2012. To learn more about the autism-specialist Santas, contact "Santa" Wyeth Hatfield at 815-250-1862 or santawyeth@gmail.com.

Camp Royall Family Fun Holiday Party:
All families with a member on the autism spectrum are invited to attend the Family Fun holiday party at Camp Royall. Enjoy all of the usual activities at the camp, including the gym, playground, and arts & crafts. In addition, there will be sensory-friendly Santa visits! Santa will meet with children in a quiet space - and here's the best part - at assigned times so there is no waiting in line. Suggested donation of $15 per family for the event.

Saturday, December 15, 2012
Camp Royall,
250 Bill Ash Road, Moncure, NC

For more information, download the flier here. Please R.s.v.p. to camproyall@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-542-1033 so they know how many families to expect and to schedule a time to visit Santa. 

Holiday Tips For Families: 

Family members are well-intentioned, but may not understand the best ways to support a child with autism during the holiday season. In particular, they might not be aware that the excitement of the season can be overwhelming and that a child on the spectrum might be interested in different sorts of gifts than they would assume. Educate them with these articles, and make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone!

"The Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Shopping for Kids With Autism" by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, blogger at Autism Wonderland. My favorite tip: "When buying anything for kids with autism it is absolutely critical to think about developmental age rather than chronological age." Who cares what the suggested ages are on the box, as long as the child will enjoy the toy?

 "Dear Friends and Family Letter" by Viki Gayhardt. This is a classic worth re-visiting every year. It is a fairly long letter that is written from the point of view of a child with autism that is intended to be shared with relatives, friends, and hosts of holiday parties to provide a "crash course" on what to expect from their guest on the autism spectrum. It covers a broad number of potential issues, from sensory overload to eating preferences to why the parents might not be able to dress the child in something fancy. Send the letter as is, or use it as a jumping off point to create your own personalized letter from the point of view of your special child.

"Autism Families: Surviving the Holidays" from Squidalicious. This post has many practical tips for parents on how to prepare their child (routines, practice, exercise, regular diet), family members, and yourselves to enjoy the whirlwind of the holiday season. One of my favorite tips for parents is to lower the bar and set reasonable expectations.

Do you know of any other autism-friendly upcoming holiday events or have any great tips for surviving the holidays? If so, please share in the comments below!

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