Welcome to your monthly Autism Newsletter from 
Green Hills Area Education Agency. Here you may find information from previously held "Autism Institute" courses, current topics, professional learning opportunities, and several connections to great resources.
Holiday Edition
Content Submitted By: Cheryl Case & Cheryl Mulligan
Gift Guide 
Toys "R" Us Gift Guide Perfect for that Special Someone
Toys "R" Us has released their toy guide for differently-abled kids that will help provide you with toy recommendations for your child. The guide displays symbols on each toy that represent specific skills (auditory, social, creativity, language, and more) associated with the toy. You can search by a selected skill or choose to shop all toys. Toys "R" Us's top ten toys that speak to autism can be found  hereFor more information, toy buying tips, and a guide to apps,  see the guide . To start your toy shopping search, click here
Tips to a Happier Holiday Season
Preparation is Key- What to do Before the Holiday 
  • Revisit Photo Albums - Help your child to become more comfortable with holiday decorations by looking through previous photos. You can also utilize this technique to remind your child of guests that will be visiting for the holidays.
  • Involve Your Child in Decorating - Take your child shopping with you for holiday decor. Test out lights and musical decorations in the store before taking them home. Try to gradually put up your new finds (Set up the tree one day, decorate it the next, and so on). Assign your child specific tasks that you feel they can manage so they can participate.
  • Create a Schedule - Use a calendar with pictures and words to describe which days events will be taking place and which days they won't. You can use a similar format to illustrate how a holiday gathering will play out step by step (First we will greet family, next we will eat, and so on).
  • Practice Situations - Walk through a demonstration of situations you expect to encounter over the holiday (shaking hands, taking turns, listening, setting the table ect.), focusing on social cues
  • Designate a Safe Place - Help your child to recognize when a situation becomes overwhelming and how to leave the situation. Create a "safe place" where they know they can go at anytime to calm down. Provide things that will help them relax such as soothing music or a favorite blanket/toy. You can also tag team this hurdle by creating a signal that your child would make to you when he/she feels overwhelmed and needs to visit this quiet room.
  • Prepare Your Family - Provide your family with strategies to minimize your child's anxiety. Let them know his/her preferences (e.g. if your child likes hugs or not). Coach them to remain calm if your child becomes upset.
  • Gifts - Wait just before the holiday to put out your gifts, as to avoid temptation. If your child is obsessed with a gift he/she wants, consider giving them tokens they can use when they want to talk about it. (1 token = 5 minutes of talking about the toy). Practice opening gifts, giving gifts, and sharing gifts/toys with siblings and family. Minimize distractions by using an ornament to symbolize who gets to open the next gift.
  • Food - Prepare some of your child's favorite dishes in case they don't like the holiday meal. You can also try some traditional holiday foods before the holiday to determine what your child does and doesn't like. If you are traveling and your child is on a special diet, be sure that you bring some options along with you.
  • Know Your Loved One - Most importantly, know how much noise and sensory input your child can tolerate, what fears they have, and what their level of anxiety may be. Try to avoid situations that may cause your child to become overwhelmed and have an activity for them to do instead.
Get the Picture - Steps Towards a Perfect Holiday Photo
  • Set up in Advance - Ask for the session to be set up ahead of time. You may also want to see if it is possible to place your child into the frame at the last second to reduce stress and keep your child more relaxed.
  • Be Quick - Short sessions are awesome! You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish in 15 minutes. If you are looking for a longer shoot, try taking a 5 minutes break after the first 20 minutes to keep your child comfortable
  • Give Your Child a Heads Up - Make sure your child is aware of upcoming photographs. Bring out some photo albums or a camera to let him/her get familiarized with the process and have some fun! 
  • Plan For Uncertainty - Carry a spare outfit in case of a spill or stain. Bring a snack and a toy or other motivator in case your child gets anxious 
  • Pad Your Time Block - Avoid additional chaos by not planning anything shortly before or after your shoot time. 
  • Use Candids - Take advantage of the candid style photo by allowing your child to play, sing, or do something else they love while capturing the moment in a beautiful setting. You'll end up with great pictures AND a great family memory
For other great resources, including social skills stories, games, songs, and rewards systems click here
Stay Connected
Meet the Team:
Julie Stessman            Kristi Minnick          Sarah Girres          Lori Durand        
Kellie Peterson           Mary Carstens         Trisha Payne           Jill Clayton      
Jasmine Zeitner         Michelle Hicks         Catelyn Buck         Cheryl Case
Cheryl Mulligan         Nancy Boswell         Joann Farmer        Carissa Otto  
Melanie VanDyke      Laurie Peterson        Beth Torneten       

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Green Hills AEA does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, creed, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity in its employment practices or on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic status in its educational programs and activities, or as otherwise prohibited by statute or regulation. For more information concerning application of this statement or the grievance procedure contact Lori Kinyon, Equity Coordinator, 257 Swan Street, Creston, IA 50801, 844-366-0503,  lkinyon@ghaea.org .