Don’t worry if you’re the parent or carer of a neuro-diverse child and you are already starting to feel stressed about the festive season. You’re not alone. As Christmas approaches, it’s common for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) parenting forums to fill up with questions. Let’s not forget how incredibly challenging it is for those of us who have spent the better part of this year in lockdown to prepare for Christmas, as we’ve had little opportunity for social interaction.
Christmas can be extra hard for those kids with autism. Often there are changes at home, with decorations appearing and carols playing. Many on the spectrum find comfort and security in routine the familiar, and the changes can be stressful. Read on to learn some tips on how to manage the stresses of Christmas.
Choose your Christmas events carefully
Christmas parades, parties, and concerts often involve vast amounts of sensory input, which can cause significant issues for those on the spectrum or with processing disorders. Consider smaller, local events and communicate what will happen before, during, and after the event, so your child is well informed. Consider creating a social scenario to help them understand the sequence of events and what you expect of them. If they have sensory issues, bring along items to help them feel settled, like a weighted blanket, a fidget toy, or noise-cancelling headphones.
Counting down to Christmas Day
For young children, you may want to start preparing them for Christmas early to avoid triggering anxiety. Consider adding a visual method for counting down to Christmas, either using a sensory version of an advent calendar or simply marking off days on a calendar. Counting down like this can help your child prepare for the event.
Christmas Day – set expectations
Christmas Day can be overwhelming and carry with it a range of expectations for ASD children. Prepare them by going through the following:
- Discuss the schedule – creating a social story can help with this.
- Talk about how you receive a gift, setting rules and expectations, like, “we should say thank you for each present we receive – even if we don’t like it.”
- List everyone they are likely to meet on Christmas Day – this can help them prepare for interacting with lots of people. Speak to your extended family beforehand, so they understand how your child is likely to react. Let your child know it is important to greet each person but that it’s up to them whether they want a hug, eye contact, or just a verbal greeting.
Food on Christmas Day
Make sure the food they like is available on Christmas Day. While it’s nice to encourage them to try new things, if their favourite food is pasta, have that on hand.
We want everyone to have a wonderful day and hope these tips will allow you and your family to enjoy a wonderful festive season.