16 Ways to Prepare Children with Autism for Holidays

The following blog post was originally posted on Easter Seals’ National website.

16 Ways to Prepare Children with Autism for Holidays

by Cathy Pratt, Ph.D., BCBA-D

While many happily anticipate the coming holiday season, families with sons/daughters on the autism spectrum also understand the special challenges that may occur when schedules are disrupted and routines broken.

The following tips were developed with input from the Autism Society of America, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Easterseals Crossroads, Sonya Ansari Center for Autism at Logan, and the Indiana Autism Leadership Network. We update our list of suggestions annually, and our hope is that by following these few helpful tips as the holiday approaches, families may lessen the stress and anxiety created by the holiday season and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

  1. Preparation is crucial for most individuals. At the same time, it is important to determine how much preparation a specific person may need. For example, if your son or daughter has a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her.
  2. Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the date of holiday events, or by creating a Social Story that highlights what will happen at a given event.
  3. Prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Allow the child access to these photos at all times and also go through the photo album with your child while talking briefly about each family member.
  4. If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to gradually decorate the house. For example, on the first day put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day decorate the tree and so on.
  5. Engage them as much as possible in the decorating process. For some it may also be helpful to take them shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are part of the process.
  6. Develop a visual schedule or calendar that shows what will be done on each day.
  7. Inform them of the process for removing decorations, since this process may be disruptive for some individuals as well.
  8. If having decorations around the house does become disruptive for some, try to revisit pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house.
  9. If such a book does not exist, use this holiday season to create a picture book of your family preparation and traditions.
  10. Consider involving your son or daughter in the process of decorating the house.
  11. Once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about those that can be touched and those that cannot be touched. Be direct, specific and consistent.
  12. Understand that with some individuals, decorations may not be feasible.
  13. If you are traveling for the holidays, arrange to have the child’s favorite foods, books or toys available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations.
  14. Use social stories or other communication systems to prepare them for any unexpected delays in travel. Easterseals’ experts at our BridgingApps center in Texas offer their picks for the best storytelling apps for both verbal and nonverbal children right here to help.
  15. If your son/daughter is flying for the first time, it may be helpful to bring your child to the airport in advance to help them become accustomed to airports and planes
  16. Use social stories and pictures to rehearse what will happen when boarding and flying the plane as well.

Don’t forget that “good tidings of comfort and joy” applies to you too

Happy Holidays! It’s that time of year again when we spend our days shopping for gifts, running from place to place trying to catch the best deals to put a smile on the face of those we love! While it is an exciting time, it can also be time that we neglect the most precious gifts we already have, our families, especially our children. While we are taking care of holiday business let’s find ways to keep our family and children knowing how special they are to us.

Below are some parenting tips (Courtesy Family Matters Parenting, 2015) to help parents understand how to spend quality time with their children, especially in this holiday season:

  • Parenting Tips 1:
    Rethink your life: one day each week, squeeze your schedule into your family life, rather than your family into your schedule. Find things that you can do together as a family.Make sure that you give each child individualized attention. Talk to your child; find out how he’s doing. Make yourself responsible for having a finger on his pulse. Be accessible, even when you’re busy.
  • Parenting Tips 2:
    Spending time doesn’t mean you have to do anything special. All it means is that you give your interest and attention.If you’re overwhelmed with chores, ask your kids to help. There’s something about engaging with others in routine activity that invites conversation and connection. Above all, check yourself before you use candy, money, toys or trips to make up for being unavailable. Remind yourself that this is often a clever defense to assuage a sense of guilt.
  • Parenting Tips 3:
    Unscheduled time–time spent spontaneously and given freely— is a great healer of relationship. Learn to make time for the people in your life. Have days or at least moments when you freely give your time. Don’t worry that the laundry isn’t folded or that you have a million things to do. Put all that aside and give your children time. By doing so, you’ll be giving them the most valuable thing you own.

Thank you so much to Dr. Juanita Brigman, ESNG’s Mental Health Manager, for contributing this article.

Traveling with children with special needs

This blog post was originally posted this Spring, but thought you’d enjoy the tips as the winter holiday break approaches!

Spring break is just around the corner, and we have the pollen to prove it! We’ve asked Marjan Holbrook to share her tips for traveling with children with special needs. As a mother of a child with a mitochondrial disease, she knows that preparation is key to a fun, relaxing and family-friendly vacation!

Prepare your child – Use social stories to talk to your child about where you are going and what you are doing. Show them pictures of the places you will be visiting. Consider downloading a GPS app onto a tablet or phone for them, so they know what to expect and possibly save yourself from having to answer the dreaded question(s): are we there yet?

Prepare yourself – research the place you will be visiting and call ahead to see if they can make accommodations for you. My daughter eats pureed foods, so I like to call the hotels and see if they can puree her food in the kitchen. I also call the airport and the airline to let them know I am traveling with a child in a wheelchair. If you have a medically fragile child, get the address to the nearest children’s hospital. If you are driving to your destination, make sure your car is in good shape, and clean. Yes, I know the kids are going to trash the car, but it’s good to start the trip in a clean car. For my family, it is easier to stay in a place with a kitchen, so I call ahead to see what basic items I need to stock the kitchen. This saves me from having to run to the grocery store in the first hours of vacation.

Prepare the stuff – This is a process I start weeks before we travel. There are items my daughter needs that cannot be bought in a regular store. I pack her list of medications and phone numbers for doctors. I go to the grocery store and make sure I have all the items I need for one meal. Something easy like pasta with sauce…and a bottle of red wine for parents. It’s so wonderful to get to your destination and have an easy meal ready to go. At home, I am all about recycling and reusing. When we travel, I am all about disposable items. Plastic utensils, paper plates, and disposable changing pads and bibs are a must have for our trips.

While you are on the road:

Peace begins with you – No matter how much you prepare there will be bumps in the road. The airline will damage the wheelchair, one of the kids will throw up, and your husband’s “shortcut” will get you stuck in traffic. You have a choice to make the best of it or lose your mind. When I start getting stressed, I remind myself my kids are watching me. They can feel my stress too, so I do the best I can to stay positive.

Keep the kids entertained – When we go on a road trip, we rent one movie and when that movie is over we stop at the next red box. This breaks up the trip and gives us a chance to stretch our legs and argue about which movie will be good for the kids and least annoying for the parents. We let the kids watch movies but only on major highways. When we are taking back roads, it’s important for us to have the kids look around and see the world.

When you get there:

I have heard people say when you go away with children it’s a family trip, not a vacation. I disagree. A family trip can be a fun vacation. If your child needs to be on a routine, try to keep them on the same routine while you are out of town. For example, if your child is used to eating lunch at 11:30 every day then make sure they can eat at 11:30 every day.

Marjan Holbrook lives in Atlanta, GA with her family and wild dog. Marjan is a former teacher and currently using all of her experience to ensure her daughters are getting the best education possible. Her nine-year-old is an accomplished wheelchair-assisted athlete. Marjan serves on the Board of Directors of the Kyle Pease Foundation. This experience has given her deep appreciation for how nonprofits seek to improve the quality of life for people with special needs.

2016: A Year in Review and A Look Forward

The theme of 2016 at ESNG was expansion. We expanded our programs, reach, events and accreditations. Let’s take a look back at what we did as we get ready for a fun and exciting 2017.for blog

Last year, we piloted the innovative STEM in early education at our Brookvalley location. Thanks to funding from the Sibley Award and Frances Hollis Brain Foundation, we are expanding the program to our Guice, Mansell and Warsaw locations.


Raising A Reader is another project we are so excited is expanding to more of our child development centers. This early literacy program provides age-appropriate books to our children and helps to implement a fun reading routine for their parents. Funding from the Luther and Susie Harrison Foundation, TJX Foundation and Walton EMC allowed us to implement the program at all of our northeast locations.

ESNG, Photo for Georgia Health Fdn - 5

With more help from our community, we expanded our reach in our early intervention program. With grant funding from Georgia Health Foundation, Mary and John Franklin Foundation, Howard Dobbs Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal and CVS Health, our autism specialists screened thousands of young children for potential autism diagnosis early in a child’s development. We also provided life-changing therapies to more than 50 additional children in our service area.


Providing support services to children with disabilities and their families has been the hallmark of Easter Seals’ mission since our inception 100 years ago. Our Champions for Children program does just that; it provides financial support to families whose children do not qualify for the Katie Beckett Waiver. This year we were able to assist 219 families with an additional 50 families in the pipeline.

Mansell Learning

Our partners at Early Learning Property Management have been busy building us a new child development center in Gwinnett. Things are moving quickly, and we should open the center in the New Year. We can’t wait to serve more children in metro Atlanta.


Three more of our centers received national and/or state accreditation from NAEYC or Bright from the Start. This means that all of our centers but our newest have achieved the highest recognition for their high-quality services!


Even our events expanded this year! We introduced a new event at TopGolf Alpharetta on May 5. Over 100 of our friends and supporters came out to golf, eat and drink with us. We are excited to have the event at both the Alpharetta and Midtown locations on May 5, 2017!


The annual Trick or Treat Trot raised more money than ever. Over 500 runners, walkers and families came to celebrate with us on October 29 at Infinite Energy Center.

Thank You for PWC

As we look to serve more people in 2017, we need your help. Your support ensures our community’s most vulnerable children live, learn and play with their peers. Your gift gets us a step closer to a world where all children can realize their dreams. Give today.

Today we celebrate the progress of Special Education!

What exactly is special education? Special education features instruction and interventions designed to meet the individual needs of each child with a disability. While this doesn’t seem like such a dramatic idea to us now, it is fairly new. In fact, in 1975, the U.S. Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This landmark law – together with subsequent amendments in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – protects the rights of infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities and their families.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Before IDEA, too many children were denied access to education and opportunities to learn. Providing appropriate education to youngsters from diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds was especially challenging. Further, most families were not afforded the opportunity to be involved in planning or placement decisions regarding their children, and resources were not available to enable children with significant disabilities to live at home and receive an education at neighborhood schools in their community.”

The IDEA has four main purposes:

  • “to assure that all children with disabilities have available to them … a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs
  • to assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents … are protected
  • to assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities
  • to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities”

In just 40 years, these laws helped to develop an infrastructure of supports that are improving the lives of millions of children with disabilities. Consider the following examples of our country’s accomplishments since enactment of the law.

  • More young children with disabilities receive high-quality early interventions that prevent or reduce the future need for services.
  • More children with disabilities attend their local schools, with many attending general education classrooms for at least part of the day.
  • More youth with disabilities graduate from high school. In the ten years between 1997 and 2007, the percentage of students with disabilities who dropped out of high school decreased 21 points.
  • More youth with disabilities attend college, with the rate of college-bound teens with disabilities increased from 14.6 percent in 1987 to 31.9 percent in 2005.

As we think about and celebrate the successes of special education, we must continue to advocate for the needs of all children. Easter Seals is proud to be a partner for families with children with special needs. Not only do we provide programs, services and resources for families, we also advocate for the rights for everyone to learn, live and play in our community.

Family Support: The difference in success

Recently I’ve been thinking about what makes Easter Seals North Georgia’s programs unique. Okay, lots of places provide early education, early intervention and/or support services. I realized almost immediately that the thing that makes us unique is our commitment to FAMILY. We cannot fully educate, support or provide therapies to children with special needs if we do not focus on their families too.

As Thanksgiving approaches, let’s talk about family and their importance on a child’s development.

Easter Seals North Georgia’s overarching goal is that parents will be their children’s first and most important teacher. How do we do that?

1. Engage them. We know that a huge part of a child’s success is how engaged their family is. To ensure their engagement, we are piloting a Parent and Family Engagement project at our Sylvan Hills child development center.


2. Keep them healthy. Each child development center has Family Support Advocates. One of their responsibilities is to make sure our families have access to services to keep them healthy – physically and mentally.

Mansell Dad

3. Empower them. Our early intervention services not only provide therapy to children with developmental delays or disabilities, it also coaches parents on how to best help their children blossom.

ESNG, Photo for Georgia Health Fdn - 2

4. Support them. Our Champions For Children program provides parents of medically fragile children with financial support as well as information to make their lives and their children’s lives happier and healthier.


5. Teach them. Every single one of our programs from Raising A Reader to the PLAY Project teaches parents. We teach parents how to engage their kids when reading to them and when playing with them.


One of my favorite stories of success from our program is Angela and her son, Josh. Josh was a student at one of our child development centers and Angela often volunteered there, too. When she fell on hard times and found herself homeless, she confided in the center’s management. Immediately the center manager and the Family Support Advocates rallied to secure the family secure housing and basic needs. Thanks to ESNG’s help, Angela was able to go back to school, become a Certified Nursing Assistant and find a stable job. We could just educate Josh, but how useful would that education be, if he didn’t have a house, food and security?

When you sit down with your family next Thursday, please think of all the work your parents did to teach you to become the person you are today. Let’s also think about parents of the children in our programs who need help in teaching their children.

ESNG is thankful for our heroes

As we all know, November is a month of being thankful. So, this month we are going to meet some members of the ESNG family that we feel are our heroes. To get us started, we talk to Laura Moncada, who is the service coordinator for our early intervention program, Babies Can’t Wait. (To read more about the beneficiaries of the program, check out this previous blog post.)

Castin Jennich

  1. How did you come to work at Easter Seals North Georgia?

In 2009, I finally finished my Bachelors in Early Childhood Care & Education (Birth to 5) and was looking for a position. I saw the Service Coordination position posted on a job website and applied.

Elias Cloer now

  1. Please describe a typical day in your position.

Every day is different. I supervise 15 Service Coordinators that see the 1000+ families enrolled in Gwinnett/Rockdale/Newton Counties Babies Can’t Wait. I have a small number of families I directly coordinate services for. I review the IFSPs [Individual Family Service Plans] that are submitted to the office, which initiates therapy for our children. I lead two of our teams where our therapists, instructors, and coordinators staff our families. Things here move quickly as our federal policies have quick turnarounds we must meet for eligibility and services/therapy to start.


  1. What is your favorite part of your job?

I truly enjoy learning strategies and ideas from the different therapists (physical, occupational, speech) and the instructors. However, my favorite part is my families. There have been instances where I link them with a program or service or therapist and things seem to unlock for them. Families don’t know what to expect when they are diagnosed or referred for a delay and sometimes just one conversation can open doors to help the family.


  1. What quality do you think makes a person a good service coordinator?

A good service coordinator has to be ORGANIZED, have a passion to help families and children, work as a team to help families, and want to learn about the changing world of disabilities and special needs. One also needs to have compassion to know when families need the gentle push or when they need the time to work through their diagnosis. Sometimes we feel families don’t want to participate/in denial. I read an article years ago talking about families needing time for “pain control”. That statement has resonated with me ever since.French Family

  1. Do you have a story of a child and/or family who thrived because of the services you provided?

I give a lot of credit to my therapists and instructors for thriving families and children. They are out there every week or every 2 weeks helping families figure out ways for a good mealtime or a successful bath or a trip to the grocery store without a meltdown. I’m in the background – I push papers, I link to therapy, parent supports, community programs and financial assistance. I get the fuzzies when I see a family happy and tears of “I never thought we’d do this!” A lot of what I do for my families is just what I do daily. BCW is the first stop for many families in the world of Special Education. It’s not about me – to be a cliché – it’s about the foundation we help build for our village.