AUTISMNI has issued advice to help
parents cope with the Christmas season which can be very
challenging for individuals with autism. As most parents know
any change in a child's routine can be disruptive and anxiety
provoking, however when a child has autism the problems are
exacerbated further. Here are a few things to remember that
might help you and your child cope with Christmas:
When you decorate your house for Christmas for many children
with ASD it becomes a different house. Try to keep decorations
in one room only, so your child can still feel familiar in the
rest of the house. Put decorations up gradually whilst your
child is around, if possible. If they go to school and come back
to a decorated house this may unsettle them.
Try to set a clear calendar for the month of December that
clearly outlines when school finishes, when visitors will
arrive, when Christmas Day is and what will happen on each day.
Also extend your calendar to when school starts back and let
your child mark off each day as it happens.
If your child has strong likes and dislikes don't stress
about them sitting down to the same Christmas Dinner as everyone
else. Keep to what they are used to and don't try to get them to
eat what they wouldn't tolerate during the year. It's only
another meal. And it doesn't have to be perfect. Use familiar
cutlery, dishes and cups for your child.
If you are visiting family and friends or they are visiting
you try to be 'definite about times of arrival and departure and
schedule this for your child. Have a dedicated room or space
where your child can retreat to when things get too much. Have
favourite games or toys available in this space and make sure
other children or adults do not intrude. Put a sign on the door
to highlight it' s your child's chill out space.
When Christmas presents are exchanged we all expect our
children to be polite and show appreciation. If your child is
likely to say "I don't like that, take it back? or throw it
down, or lash out when someone tries to hug them etc, warn
family and friends not to expect too much, how to respond and
not to take it personally.
Try to prepare your child for these times
with a social story or comic strip conversation, build it into
their schedule, but be flexible. Your child may not be able to
be in the same room as visitors. Work out an explanation in
advance, rather than trying to explain or excuse when that
embarrassing moment occurs!
Children with ASD will find it hard to put things in
perspective, see the bigger picture, rationalise what is
happening and cope with new people or things.
Coping with the pressure of Christmas:
Be realistic. Preparing for and celebrating Christmas is
stressful for everyone. Try to find some time for yourself. Even
if it is for a soak in the bath, or a trip to the hairdressers
or watching a DVD. Ask family or friends to help out and give
you a break.
If you are cooking Christmas dinner and are panicking about
how you will manage if your child is not coping, cook the turkey
and ham on Christmas Eve and carve it. Pack it in foil with a
bit of juice and re-heat thoroughly on the day itself. Prep your
vegetables on Christmas Eve. Do anything you can to cut down on
the workload. Buy ready prepped veg. It's only one day out of
the year and the extra expense is worth it if it helps you feel
less stressed. Don't be afraid to talk to your GP if you find
things are getting too much. Talk to other parents about how
they manage Christmas. And thinking about and planning for it
now, will reduce the stress of your child's meltdown that has
caught you unawares. And remember, keep your sense of humour in
close proximity throughout Christmas.