There is a lot of pressure on families to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas. In an ideal world the kids would be easy to buy for and love their presents (and you wouldn’t be ‘skint’ from buying them!). The family would all sit around the table for a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Afterwards, maybe you would go for a stroll or sit and play games in front of the fire.
It may well sound lovely, but for most families Christmas isn’t as perfect as it is on film. And Christmas for kids with autism can be hugely overwhelming and for some, distressing - the change of routine, the lights, the noises, the smells – all play a part in this.
In this blog, we aim to give a Christmas guide for parents of children with autism.
So how do you have an autism-friendly Christmas? The answer is simple – don’t put pressure on yourself or your child to follow so-called traditions and create your own! It’s about finding what works for you and going with it.
Get Your Child Involved With The Decorating: If your child likes Christmas lights and decorations involve them if you can in the process and take your time to put them up together.
Some children don’t like Christmas decorations. Remember you don’t have to have these things – please don’t feel like you need to. If your child doesn’t like them, but you would like to decorate perhaps you could have a dedicated ‘Christmas room’ where all of the decorations are put up. This will limit the impact of any changes to other rooms in the house.
Use Social Stories and an Advent Calendar: There are lots of potential anxieties that a child with autism might have about Christmas – even fear of the big man himself! Use social stories to break down what they are worried about and explain things to them in a way that will help them to understand.
An advent calendar is a great tool to use to count down the number of days to Christmas.
Talking to Friends and Family before Visiting: It is perhaps unlikely that visitors will be allowed during the Christmas period this year, however, if they are it might be beneficial to ensure that there is a quiet space available for your child to relax and avoid potential sensory overload.
Organise Autism-Friendly Events: It may be that your child doesn’t want to visit Santa or go to any festivities outside the house and if that’s the case – that’s more than okay. However, if they do - remember to check out local autism-friendly events. These are often quieter and adapted to meet sensory needs. It also often means no queuing!
Receiving and Unwrapping Presents: We created a sensory gift guide of presents that your child might like that is worthwhile checking out. Some children with autism are not interested in unwrapping gifts. If this is your child, perhaps consider not wrapping them. If your child is overwhelmed by gifts, then giving them one thing at a time spread out over a period may help.
If your child struggles to unwrap wrapping paper, the best type of wrapping paper to buy is the really cheap stuff. This is much easy to rip than foiled paper.
Practice wearing ‘special clothes’ beforehand: A new outfit for Christmas day or an event might feel all different and just not right. Party clothes aren’t often very comfortable and children on the spectrum can be particularly sensitive to things like seams and scratchy fabrics. Have a few dress rehearsals before the day. For your children to feel more comfortable try wearing sensory undergarments such as adaptive bodysuits before putting their Christmas outfits on top.
Making Christmas Dinner Comfortable for Children With Special Needs: Not everyone likes turkey and all the trimmings and a lot of children with autism only eat specific foods. If this is your child and they want chicken nuggets for dinner then so be it! Don’t put pressure on yourself or on them to eat something different. Remember - no one is going to judge you.
Organising Sensory Friendly Christmas Activities: There are lots of things that you can do with your child depending on their sensory needs and willingness to participate, such as dancing and singing to Christmas music or getting down on the floor and playing with their new toys. However, if your child is happiest playing on their iPad or chilling out in their dark den let them and don’t feel guilty about it.
The important thing to remember is Christmas is about spending time together. It’s about family and making your own memories and traditions. An autism-friendly Christmas is about doing whatever works and makes your family happy.
We hope you have a very merry autism-friendly Christmas.
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