Ask an OT: Why does my child act out more at this time of year, and how can I help my child get through the festive season?

December 18, 2019
Ask an OT: Why does my child act out more at this time of year, and how can I help my child get through the festive season?

The days are getting longer, the sun is setting later, the weather is finally warming, the school year is coming to an end, and the festive season is approaching. This also means many changes are upon us, as more family and friends surround us and different outings, gatherings and commitments arise.

It is important to consider that changes to routine and environments can add different components or stressors to little ones. A seemingly simple gathering of family and friends invokes a whole host of new environments including different smells, sounds, tastes, unfamiliar faces, scenery and location, including type and length of travel. It is to be expected that different or new behaviours may arise. As parents and caregivers it is necessary to be mindful about what behaviours are telling us.  
The common reasons for behaviours are as follows: 

  • Communication 
  • Attention or other positive reinforcement 
  • Reduction of frustration or stress 
  • Escape from demands 
  • Lack of understanding 
  • Sensory stimulation 
  • Control 

A simplified way to remember this is through the acronym of EATS: 

  • Escape – escape from a task 
  • Attention- attention from adult/peers 
  • Tangible- want something that is not available 
  • Sensory – behaviour fills a sensory need  

When we keep this in mind, we can tune into what the behaviour is telling us, and we can begin to understand, rather than simply labelling the child as misbehaving or naughty. 

Some strategies that we can use around this busy time are:  

  • Provide a predictable environment and routine where possible e.g. use a visual schedule or daily calendar. 
  • Prepare and plan for changes in advance using visual aids or pictures to support understanding, including pictures of where you’re going and whom you’re going to see. 
  • Allow ‘downtime’ upon returning home from socially and sensory demanding activities, for example, allowing your child to play with preferred activity in/outside.  
  • Provide plenty of breaks. 
  • Consider the length and times of travel e.g. avoid peak hour traffic/times. 
  • Avoid situations/triggers that are simply too much for your child to manage.  

Once we know the purpose of the behaviour it is much easier to understand what little ones can tolerate and we are able to make the necessary changes to support them over the festive season.  

Wishing everyone a Merry Everything and a Happy Always! 

Information obtained from Amaze: Behaviour Support strategies for people on the autism spectrum 2017