Every December (let’s face it from October onwards in some cases) our environment begins to change. There are lots of odd smells, noises and lights everywhere. People begin to wear funny clothing and kiss each other under sprigs of white berries. Shops are more crowded than usual, we drink our wine warm and add spices to everything. Every radio station plays the same set of songs and cold white stuff falls from the sky.
Just think how overwhelming that would be if you weren’t used to Christmas. For a child with Autism the world can feel very much like that over the festive period. All of these customs are referred to as ‘Traditional’ but just because society sees them as that doesn’t mean they have to be everyone’s ‘traditions’. Why not make your own Christmas traditions to suit your family, your child?
Here are some of our tips for making this Christmas more autism friendly.
- Social Stories are a great way of prepping your child for upcoming events.
- Speak to your child, find out what they think of Christmas. Ask them what they love and what they would change. We have a couple of fun activities below for encouraging interaction.
- Meal planning. If mealtimes are particularly worrying for your child discuss what they would like to eat and get them involved in the planning. Drawing place settings or name tags are great activities too.
Work Around Your Child’s Routine
- Stick to usual meal times if possible. Often the day can be a bit muddled at Christmas; how many of us have Christmas dinner at 2pm and don’t eat again until early evening? Try to plan around your child’s usual routine where possible.
- Allow your child to wake up when they do most days. The morning could start stressfully by waking them too early or trying to force a lie in just because it is Christmas. Trust their body clock.
- Keep bedtime routine the same. If bath, book, bed is your child’s routine then try to stick to that. Allow them that time to wind down after a busy day.
- Not every family tradition has to be the same, do what works for you.
- When it comes to eating out, be it an event or gathering, it is a good idea to take food you know your child will eat, rather than expecting them to eat ‘traditional’ xmas foods when there are lots of other stresses going on.
- If your child doesn’t want Christmas dinner or can’t cope with sitting at the table for the whole meal that is ok too.
- ‘Traditional’ festive clothing i.e jumpers, hats etc. can be uncomfortable for a child with sensory issues. If your child is more comfortable in their regular clothes just go with what makes them happy.
- Christmas decorations are beautiful but sometimes all those flashing lights and funny textures (tinsel, glitter etc) can be a bit overwhelming. Perhaps consider phasing them in one day at a time so that they don’t all just arrive in one go. Another option is to have a tree but with minimal decorations and no lights if that helps, or keep decorations and Christmas excitement to one room rather than having it spread through the whole house.
Download and print the activity sheets: