Reducing Holiday Stress for Teens on the Spectrum

Is your child feeling overwhelmed by holiday stress and social events? For many, the holiday season is a time of joy and connection, but teens on the spectrum often experience significant holiday stress as festivities may disrupt their familiar routines. Without the structure of school over winter break, teens struggle to channel their energy into productive activities and have more time to ruminate on anxious thoughts. Rather than spending more time with family, they often feel more isolated and lonely, which can lead to negative coping mechanisms.  

Coming Up With a Plan for the Holidays

Parents often have a lot on their plate over the winter holidays. It can be hard to balance their priorities and supporting their child on the spectrum. Planning ahead and practicing social scripts for each event can help your child feel more calm during the holiday season. Don’t forget to continue to support and reward positive behavior and adaptability. If some aspect of the celebration may be too distressing for you or your child, you can make adjustments to traditions and incorporate new ways to celebrate that will make the whole family happy.

Here are five ways to manage holiday stress:


  • Stick to a schedule. Extended time off school can be overwhelming for teens who appreciate the predictability of their school routine. Maintaining a similar sleep schedule and regular meal times can help them adjust to different activities. Some teens benefit from coming up with a new “winter break” schedule to structure their days or following a calendar of events that they can visualize days in advance. 
  • Be mindful about sensory overload. Loud music, new decorations, and large crowds can bring up a lot of anxiety for teens on the spectrum. You may have to compromise on what traditions you want to follow to adjust the level of sensory input involved. While you may not be able to control situations outside of your home, make sure that they have self-care strategies or an “escape plan” they can use to stay grounded during overwhelming moments.
  • Pause for moments of mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness can be useful for both you and your teen. Children on the spectrum are often hypersensitive to other people’s emotions and pick up on feelings of tension, but struggle to understand why you may be feeling stressed. Mindfulness can help with being objective and nonjudgmental as stressful feelings arise. 
  • Anticipate what problems may occur and come up with a plan. Many teens with autism tend to obsess over details they can’t control when anticipating a potentially stressful event. It’s helpful to go over details with them ahead of time and keep them involved in the planning process. 
  • Ask for help. Many people have a long to-do list during the holiday season. Remember that you don’t have to get everything done on your own. If your child is struggling, reaching out for help over the break may be an easier way to transition into the new year smoothly than waiting for problems to escalate. While many parents are concerned about disrupting family traditions, sometimes holiday stress can lead to more conflict. 



New Focus Academy Can Help 

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism spectrum disorder or other neurodevelopmental disorders. The program utilizes positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. The social skills that teens on the autism spectrum learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and improve their self-management skills. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits.

For more information, call us at (844) 313-6749. We can help your family today!