You probably spent years with images of sharing Christmas morning with your children - you thought about your own childhood and imagined children rushing to open presents, large smiles when the much wanted toy was found under the tree and a day spent eating, singing and visiting family. When you had children you imagined your childhood Christmas mornings would happen all over again - this time with you as the parent.
But when you have a child with autism, Christmas can take on it’s own life and one that doesn’t in the least resemble your vision of the holiday. Many parents of children with autism have found that adjusting their ideas (and traditions), making them more autism-friendly leads to a more memorable and enjoyable holiday.
Here are some tips for having an autism-friendly Christmas Day:
Skip the large family gatherings. Opt instead to make visits short or spread them out throughout the week. Your child may react better to a quiet visit the day before or after Christmas than being in a noisy, crowded environment.
Let relatives know to phone ahead if they are planning to stop by for a holiday visit. Children with autism aren’t always big on surprises and having unexpected guests in the house can throw off their whole routine. When friends or relatives call ahead, you can plan the visit, let your child know what to expect or reschedule it to a better time.
Whether staying at your house or visiting relatives, designate a space as a “quiet area” where your child can go de-stress or calm down. Have a few quiet time activities, such as books or music, for some alone time.
Provide a schedule of Christmas Day activities. Let your child know exactly what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. He can follow along the schedule.
Let your child open presents at his or her own pace. For some children, opening presents may take all day. They may open a present and play with it before wanting to open another.
Consider leaving presents unwrapped. While it takes away some of the excitement of Christmas morning, if your child doesn’t like opening presents, can’t stand the sound of ripping or crinkling wrapping paper or doesn’t like the surprise of wrapped gifts, leave them unwrapped under the tree.
Make sure any gifts needing batteries have the batteries installed before the gifts are opened. For some children opening a gift and having it not work creates frustration and meltdowns. Instead, open all battery operated gifts, install the batteries, test the toy and then wrap it up (or place under the tree.)
Wrap presents so they are easy to open. Use small pieces of tape or place in gift bags to make it simply for your child to find the gift inside. Tactile sensitivities or frustration with opening the gift can make it hard to unwrap presents.
Make sure you have food your child will eat for Christmas dinner. Because of sensitivities, your child may only eat certain foods - none of which are served with a traditional Christmas dinner. If so, bring along foods you know your child will eat and allow him to eat that while everyone else is enjoying their food.
When heading out to a relative’s house for dinner, ask in advance what time dinner is going to be served so your child is prepared. If you think your child is going to be hungry, pack some snacks for him to eat.
Create a Christmas Day kit your child can use at home or bring to a relatives. Include a schedule of the day, snacks, small toys, blanket, stimming items, earplugs (to block out noise if the party gets too loud) and Thank you cards he can hand out when he gets a gift.
If church services are too loud and crowded for your child, consider contacting your pastor and setting up a time when you and your family can visit the church on your own. Create a tradition of sitting in church and saying a prayer together.
Christmas with children with autism may be different than you envisioned but that doesn’t need to take away from the joy of Christmas Day or the fun you, as a family, have together. It simply means it is different.
Published On: December 23, 2013