The lights are up everywhere and the holiday cheer is all around us. Christmas is the time for friends, family, gifts, decorations, and delicacies. During this holiday season, the change in routine, new visitors, unaccustomed foods, and the decorations can prove to be a challenge for children on the spectrum. The lights, smells, and crowds could be extremely overwhelming to them. With a bit of forethought and planning, you can easily make this holiday season more enjoyable and comfortable for your child.
Here are some tried and tested tips to host an autism-friendly Christmas:
Planning and Preparation
Understanding your child’s needs and preparing accordingly is the first step during the holiday season. Plan the events of Christmas in advance and explain the schedule to your child a few days earlier. Run them through the plan a couple of times, if necessary.
You can show them photos of expected visitors. You can also create a social story that highlights the happenings of the day.
Children on the spectrum have strong sensory needs. So make sure to decorate your home in a way your child finds welcoming and comforting. Decorate your home gradually rather than doing it in one go. This would make the change gradual, instead of it being a sudden surprise to your child’s senses. If possible, do involve your child in the process of decorating the house and the tree.
Another thing you could do is to use gift wrap that is not too flashy or jarring on the senses. You can also wrap gifts in cellophane or any other transparent material to reduce the anxiety of not knowing what’s inside the present.
Be Ready with Familiar Food
A lot of children on the spectrum are very particular about their food preferences. So try preparing meals that your child is accustomed to. It is true that preparing food is one of the most stressful jobs. But cooking for an autism-friendly Christmas could be as simple as making a sandwich or home-made chicken nuggets (with some festive touches of course!) for your child. Amidst all the merrymaking, do keep an eye on the number of sugary products consumed.
Prepare Your Family
If your family is visiting for the holidays, give them a heads-up on what to expect, how to interact and how can they be of help in case of anxiety-related issues or possible meltdowns. Prepare your family members for strategies that can be used to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents. For instance, if your child prefers not to be hugged, provide other suggestions for interaction that your child finds comfortable.
It might also be helpful if you can ask them to remain calm and neutral when the child is experiencing an overwhelming situation.
Plan for a Sensory Retreat
Make sure to have an “escape” plan for your child in case they show any signs of stress or discomfort. Teach them how to access support when a situation/place becomes overwhelming. You can also designate a quiet place for meals in case they find a huge family meal triggering. If you are traveling for the holidays, carrying your child’s favorite toys, books, and noise-canceling headphones is highly recommended.
So this Christmas, don’t stress! Just plan a tiny bit in advance. Make use of these strategies to make this holiday season a fun-filled, memorable one for your child. And don’t forget to give thanks to your family and friends for their support in hosting an autism-friendly Christmas.
We would love to hear about your experience using some of our suggestions. How do you plan and prepare for Christmas? Do share your own strategies with us and other caregivers, in the comments below! Also, share with us your favorite memories from this holiday season!
Team Avaz sends loads of love, festive cheer and wishes your way!
Wishing you and all your loved ones a Very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a Happy New Year!