Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Advice to help parents with austic children cope with Christmas

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.

Advent Calendars:
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.

Christmas Dinner:
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.

Family Visits:
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.

Christmas Presents:
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.

Ulster Star