Celebrating Christmas with your Child
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
There’s lights up everywhere, people are crowding stores finding the perfect gifts for their loved ones, there’s cookies to bake, family to visit, and holiday cheer all around.
While the holidays are regarded with anticipation and joy for most families, families with children on the autism spectrum may have mixed feelings. It is always best to plan for what you can anticipate and expect the unexpected.
The holidays are a time when your child, who thrives on routines and sameness, is out of his or her comfort zone.
There are just lots of things about the holiday that don’t make for a very autism-friendly Christmas.
The lights, the smells, the crowds, and all of the things that we love about Christmas can be extremely overwhelming to someone who struggles with sensory input.
As a family affected by autism spectrum disorder you already know, there aren’t any ‘right’ answers. There are kids who love the lights and sounds of the holiday season, and there are kids who cannot walk through the frenzied mall or sit on Santa’s lap. There are children who enjoy opening presents, and there are those who don’t respond to gift-giving and leave the room.
Making the Most of the Holidays for Your Family
Every child has different needs and limitations, and it’s okay. Your family is special and you should do what works best and makes you happy.
- There are so many Holiday celebrations! Consider whether to attend all, none, or perhaps arrive for the last part of the holiday party.
- Think of ways to incorporate special events around the regular routine.
- Plan for the days ahead and begin to talk about it. Perhaps note on a calendar what you will do, who will be there, what it will be like for each day you have something special planned.
- Dress in comfortable clothes, and bring a change – the excitement can bring on any type of accident.
- Pack a “safety net bag” with your child’s favorite calming toys. These may be stress balls, video games (fully charged), and headphones to muffle sound as well as to listen to favorite music.
- Bring food that you know your child will enjoy. While the holiday treats are favorites for many of us, not all children on the autism spectrum enjoy different tastes, textures, and smells.
- Is there a quiet place your child can go to regroup and settle down if he or she becomes over stimulated or over excited? Consider having this discussion with your host or hostess before the event so they can make a room or area of their home quiet, safe, and comfortable for your child.
- Plan an exit strategy with your partner. You know your child, and you know how long he or she will last. Try to leave before the meltdown begins!
- Gifts: less is more. It is much better to give one gift at a time, so not to be overwhelmed with the presents, the packages, a multitude of new toys. If the gift is something your child might not appreciate, such as new clothing, consider not having your child open it. Just have the new clothes available, or present these at another time, perhaps at home.
- Certainly every family has special traditions and expectations. Families of a child on the autism spectrum may need to adapt some or all of these traditions to work for their child!
Don’t worry about the burnt sugar cookies, your lopsided Christmas tree, or other small details. It’s more important that you enjoy family time at Christmas, rather than attempting to have the ‘perfect’ holiday.