Preparing For Christmas
Christmas is a special time of year, but for an autistic person it can also be daunting. Changes in daily structure and routine, combined with the unpredictability of events can be challenging, with new toys, seasonal foods, flashing Christmas decorations and louder music. All of these changes can make for a particularly overwhelming and stressful time for an autistic person and their family.
We have put together a short list of useful tips that we hope may prove helpful in making this festive period as special and as stress free as possible.
For many autistic people, any kind of change can be stressful. In order to minimise this here are some things you may wish to consider:
- Prepare your child by discussing the facts around Christmas, what it means and what will happen. For example, make sure they know when you will be putting up the Christmas decorations and include your child in the preparation.
- Visual supports like calendars can be really helpful to remind your child of some of the upcoming events. Such as when the school holiday starts to when friends and relatives may be visiting.
Many autistic people benefit from some routine and you may wish to try and make your festive holiday as predictable as possible:
- Try and keep some aspects of your daily routine the same in the lead up to Christmas and on Christmas Day itself. For example getting ready or keeping breakfast to the usual time.
- Unpredictability around present opening can be difficult. Perhaps it would help if your child knew what presents they will be receiving.
- Don’t feel that the presents all need to be opened on Christmas morning in the traditional way as this may cause added pressure and stress. If they have several gifts you could open a few in the days before or following Christmas and spread the celebration.
- Incorporate a familiar Christmas activity that they enjoy into their daily schedule. This could be opening the advent calendar or switching on the Christmas tree lights. It might be worthwhile to keep a dedicated Christmas-free zone in your home for key moments that your child may find stressful, such as when other people are opening their presents.
Many autistic people will have differing sensory needs, returning home to find a tree with flashing lights could be confusing and stressful. You could:
- Get them involved in putting any decorations up (don’t do it when they are sleeping), introduce your child gradually to any changes in the environment – give them the chance to get familiar with any decorations
- Try and keep decorations that might overload them away from communal areas, eg flashing Christmas lights could go in bedrooms rather than in the living room.
- Make up a booklet illustrating items and events to support your child to build up an idea of what to expect. For example, use pictures of Christmas tree/decorations, presents, the type of food you might eat.