This post was originally published on Christmas Day, 2010. Now 7 years later I was asked for some tips on how I prepared my autistic son for Christmas and I thought of this post. I decided to do some editing to compare it to current day preparations. This is only a guide, all children with autism are different and require a unique set of plans.
While many families of Autistic children spend months preparing their children for Christmas, we do not have this issue. However our son does have issues when dealing with Christmas activities that do require careful handling.
There are minor changes here. We still do not spend months preparing him, however he actually is anticipating Christmas and is actually requesting the tree. (he is essentially non verbal so this level of request is out of character)
For instance for many years my mother has on boxing day, held a family meal which has grown to include as many as 20+ individuals. Our son tends to not eat during these meals as there is just to much stimulus to allow him the comfort he requires for his meal.
This year due to her age and the volume of individuals, my mother has scaled back her meals. She now includes one of her children’s family at a time. This drasticall reduces the number of people involved. Interestingly enough our son still chose not to eat, so even that did not reduce the stimulus enough to allow him comfort. On a side note even at home for our Christmas dinner he did not eat as well as he normally would. So the simple break in routine of how the meal is handled could be enough to upset his equilibrium around the meal.
He is now a growing boy of 14. As long as he likes the food on his plate, nothing is left. I do expect a large gathering that was paying him attention may put him off his food. However, when we do go to specific restaurants that he likes, he eats well. We are now almost 7 years into the new routine and it is going well for him.
Reasonable Expectations Towards Presents
It is important to note, as my wife pointed out, that 2010 was the FIRST year ever, that my son expressed any interest in unwrapping presents at all.
What was interesting is the presents. For the first year our son actively involved himself in opening his presents (at least up till he reached a toy that took his concentration away and he stopped anything else to play with it) Our son was definitely enjoying his new toys and participated well in the general Christmas activities. We normally like waiting till my parents arrive to open presents. It was nice that he was actively participating in the gift opening. He also constantly presented my father with his gifts to be taken out of the box. As well, he did try several toys until he found the one we tried to keep to the bottom of the pile. Leapster explorer was a toy we were aware he was interested in due to his internet activity of late, and he opened all his presents till he got to it.
Again we we will be holding gifts back. There are a couple large gifts that we know will keep his interest. We also know that it is best if we do not allow him to open books as these tend to be amongst his favorite presents. At current his favorite activities are reading and playing on his tablet.
Allow Your Autistic Child Their Breaks
One interesting different thing did occur during the day. About halfway through the day for some reason, he seemed to get overstimulated to the point where he was finding it difficult to cope. Rather then strike out (as he is quite capable of doing) he walked off and went upstairs to his room. He sat in the dark with the lights off and the blinds down. We found him quietly playing his game, but away from all the bustle of the house. He chose to do this several times during the day, leading us to believe that he can be well aware of when he is getting overstimulated. At least today he was quite willing to take himself away from the situation when necessary. It will be interesting to see if this behaviour continues through the year.
Actually very interested in rereading this part. This behaviour did not really continue, and there have been good days and bad. However, we are finding that he has gone back over the past two or three months, to the habit of spending down time in his room to allow himself to decompress. He does not do this all the time or even as often as he gets overstimulated. However, he does make an effort to spend time there if he notices things getting out of hand.
Reasonable Expectations And Hard Work
All in all this was another good Christmas. Our children were extremely happy with their gifts, though our 19mth old believes that her siblings explorers are hers. We may need to introduce them two years early to her. Our family did not incur debt to give our kids a decent Christmas, either. While the blog has suffered a bit due to time spent working and shopping. It was worth it to make their Christmas memorable. I am able to sufficiently say in the aftermath that it was well worth the effort. We are all pleased with our successes during this busy time of year.
We are constantly working to make sure the kids alway have an optimum Christmas. My wife is great at identifying just the right toy that will spark the most interest in all the kids, including our autistic son, and this year I am absolutely positive that has not changed (though the kids don’t know it yet)
Now in 2017 I can look back and suggest a number of tips that work well to help prepare children in advance for Christmas.
- Talk about Christmas early.
- As soon as the first Christmas lights start going up on houses is a good time to start pointing them out and linking the lights to Christmas and Santa.
- Only you know your child. Sometimes muted decor and no wrappings might be essential for some autistic children.
- Make sure that there is a quiet place for your autistic child to go. Christmas day and the lead up can be extremely exciting for other siblings and even parents. The additional stimuli can lead to meltdowns and blowouts if the child does not have the ability to relax themselves.
- This is a year round thing, however many therapy programs include coping mechanisms to self calm. It would be ideal to pick this time to remind your child of those mechanisms.
- Include your autistic child as much as they will allow in the experience. However always be cognizant of their ability to handle the experience and monitor them for signs they need a break. Every parent or person who works closely with the child should be on guard at this time of year. The child will be prone to shorter triggers, and quicker behaviours due to the constant extra stimuli.
- Make sure your child is well aware of how proud you are of all of their accomplishments. One thing I have learned over the years is autistic children know what is going on around them. They know how stressed out you are and if you make sure they understand how proud you are of their good behaviour, they will remember. It may not be today, tomorrow or the next day but they will remember and adjust their behaviour over time accordingly.
- If your child likes Electronic Devices, having one around to offer him to distract him might be beneficial. However, make sure it is not to late or the device can get tossed and broken
- Remember Christmas is supposed to be fun for everyone. Above all else work to keep your bad moods in check and it will help both you and your autistic child.
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