How to plan a sensory-friendly holiday for kids with autism - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

How to plan a sensory-friendly holiday for kids with autism

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — The lights, the sounds, the smells of the holidays - these are just some of the reasons people love this time of year. 

But if you have a child with autism, the holidays can be extra stressful. 

The parties, lights, music, rich food and gift-giving can be confusing and difficult for kids with autism. 

Morning Extra guest Laura Kasbar is a mother of 7, including twins with autism and she is here to help. 

Laura is an expert on autism and the founder of Gemiini – a web-based program that helps kids with autism to learn and speak.   

Some facts and figures about autism:  

• 30 years ago, 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. Today, it is 1 in 45 

• The holidays can be extremely stressful for families affected by autism 

• During the holiday season people with autism can be terrified. They can be scared with all the strange people in their home. They also have no idea what a present is, that it’s for them, and how to unwrap it. 

Tips from Laura:  

1. Starting a week before the big event, show video clips or photos of large family gatherings from years before 

2. Start practicing a "chill out zone" plan. Designate a specific room in the home as a "quiet place" and make sure that everyone who is coming over knows not to go into that room. If the child feels that he has an "escape plan” he won't feel trapped and will be less anxious 

3.  Many of the smells in holiday meals, the ones that we all love, can be overwhelming to a person with autism. In the week running up to the event. Cook a different dish each night that will be featured in the main meal. Let the child taste it, but have an alternative available. This will give him assurance that his alternative will also be available during the main meal. 

4. Create videos of the items that will be seen on the big day. Get photos of the new people that will be in the home and make a video holding up their picture and saying their name. Make a video of the Christmas tree, set the table in the way it will be for Christmas and make a video with the photos the people at each place setting. 

 5. Many children with autism have no idea how to open a present or what it is all about.  Gemiini has a YouTube video that is free for the public that teaches children how to open a present and that that present is for them. It also teaches them to say, "thank you."     

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