Tips for an Autism Friendly Christmas
Tips for an Autism Friendly Christmas
Christmas time can be such a stressful time for everyone! Buying christmas presents, making food arrangements, organising parties! However Christmas can be a particularly stressful time for Autism Families because of the BIG change in routine. No school, no therapies, visiting family can be very overwhelming. I am speaking from experience because last Christmas we didn't put anything in place to protect our autistic son, Jacob. This made for a very stressful, anxiety ridden holiday with continuous sensory meltdowns.
Now that we know a little more about Autism, we wanted to come up with 10 tips for an Autism Friendly Christmas.
1. Have a quiet place where your child can go when they are feeling overwhelmed. Whether you are having Christmas at your house or at a family member's house, make sure that you create a place that they can go to escape the chaos to regulate. This can be a sensory space with all of their favourite sensory items, or a place they can go to play their favourite game alongside some comfort items.
2. Create a visual schedule or a social story of Christmas Day. This allows autistic people to know and expect what is going to happen on the day. Pictures could include breakfast, getting ready, driving to someone's house, a picture of the house that christmas will be at etc. It can be incredibly frustrating to spend a day out of routine and not knowing what to expect next. This social story will give them the stability and routine that they need.
3. Bring familiar/ comfort items with you. These items could be anything that brings your autistic child comfort such as a dummy, bottle, comforter, or a favourite snack.
4. Un-package all toys and presents before christmas wrapping them. It can be very frustrating for some autistic people to open up a christmas present and then have to hand it over to someone to un-package the toy and fiddle with batteries. Avoid this stress altogether and set up the toy before wrapping it.
5. Hide the presents before it's time to open them. Last year we had christmas presents under the tree, and all day long we were constantly trying to get our kids away from opening them too early. It is so much easier on everyone to put the presents away in a cupboard until it is time to open presents.
6. Prepare/ bring along their favourite safe food. A lot of autistic people have safe foods, foods they are guaranteed to eat even when they are feeling overwhelmed. Ensuring these are at the christmas party will help your child keep up their energy even if they wont eat any other food that's there. It will also bring a small amount of familiarity to them and they will enjoy their meal.
7. Create a photo album of the guests that will be at the party. This is great for visual learners to be able to get used to the faces that they are going to be seeing on the day. It won't be as shocking for them to see lots of new people in one room if they have already seen those faces in their photo album.
8. Prepare family and friends before the event. Some friends and family might know your child well, however there may be some new people who don't know anything about how autism affects your child. You can inform them about things they like/dislike, foods they love, how to approach them and ways you can help if they are feeling overwhelmed.
9. Take it slow! When you arrive at an event, make sure you take it slow and take it at their own pace. This might mean taking them into a front room before going to the main room. It might mean playing in the front yard until they are comfortable to go into the house. It can be very overwhelming to walk straight into a big room full of people, noise and decorations.
10. Lower your expectations. I think it's so easy to have big expectations about christmas because every family has their own traditions that they participate in every year such as opening christmas presents altogether or going to see the christmas lights after christmas dinner. When you accept your child's autism diagnosis, you also accept a different way of life. This includes how Christmas will play out for your family, it may be different to how you expect. Lowering your expectations at Christmas will help everyone have a much better time.
Thank you Jessica from Aussie Autism Family for providing these great tips for an Autism Friendly Christmas.
Make sure you check out Jessica's YouTube channel for loads of other tips.