Preparing Your Child with Autism for Hari Raya Celebrations
The Raya festivities are just around the corner! We hope you are having a blessed Ramadhan thus far :) Hari Raya is always an exciting time of the year...However, here are some things you may want to take into consideration when celebrating with a child with autism.
Helping your child be part of the celebrations
As Hari Raya is only celebrated once a year, your child may not be familiar with certain customs or family traditions. This may lead to some resistance if they are feeling uncomfortable. In order for festivities to go smoothly, it may help to expose your child to certain aspects that they may find challenging prior to the actual celebrations. Some common customs that children with autism find challenging this festive season are :
- wearing traditional attire
- giving Salam to others
- wishing and responding to "Selamat Hari Raya"
- praying at or going to a mosque
Practicing at home or the desired location for short durations of time and rewarding your child after, will help with desensitization.
Knowing what to expect
Some children with autism may find changes in routine difficult. To help your child tolerate these changes and be aware of the daily happenings, show your child the itinerary for the day. Marking the relevant days on the calendar beforehand will visually prepare your child for the Raya celebrations. If your child has high comprehensive abilities, talk them through the ins and outs of the celebrations such as generally what to expect, or more specifically whose houses they will be visiting, family or friends who will be there, things that they will be doing, etc. Feel free to use pictures or visuals if your child should need it.
Check out the pictures below for an example of what we do here at Autism Link!
Family and friends should also be aware of your child's needs so that they can make the necessary accommodations (if needed).
Let's talk about food
If your child has dietary needs or specific food preferences, bring along something that your child will be able to eat. If your child finds it challenging to try new food, you may find it helpful to introduce it to them systematically. There are many ways to introduce your child to the new food. One way is by alternating it with food that your child prefers. For example, if your child likes cereal, you can start with one spoon of cereal followed by a bite of the new cookie and then more cereal as a reward. You may want to try this a few times, to increase the likelihood that the child is more tolerant of the new food. After all, practice makes perfect! :)
Otherwise, feel free to let your child indulge in all the Raya goodies! After all, we all enjoy a good plate of ketupat and rendang, with all the delightful cookies on the side... and they should too! :)
In the case of meltdowns...
... don't panic! :) You may observe an increase in tantrums or problem behavior during the festive season due to changes in routine and environment, as well as an increase in stimuli. Certain aspects of the celebrations that your child may find overwhelming include loud music, fireworks, crowded spaces at open houses, flashing lights and colorful decorations, among other things. However, fret not! There are steps you can take to manage the situation. Firstly, identify a quiet or private space for your child to work on being calm. You should also have reinforcement (preferred food, toys or gadgets) handy to reward calm behavior. Distractions will also be able to help them take their mind off triggers or other upsetting factors.
Remember the essentials!
For a smooth sailing Raya celebration, don't forget to always have with you some reinforcement, your child's communication aid (if any), activities, toys or gadgets to occupy your child during downtime such as long balik kampung journeys or when they are otherwise unoccupied.
We hope this helps with having a wonderful and joyous Hari Raya celebration with your families. From all of us at Autism Link, Selamat Hari Raya, and safe travels!