How to Help Your Autistic Child Survive Christmas

Christmas can be a difficult time for autistic children.  The smells, sounds and lights could be too much for them and if not managed well could lead to a meltdown, or ten.  Read on to find out how to help your autistic child cope with the Christmas season, and tips to help you control their environment to prevent festive meltdowns.

No matter how much we love Christmas, this time of year is not friendly to our autistic children.  With all the sights, sounds and smells, on top of a likely change of routine, they get easily agitated and restless.  It is our responsibility as parents to make sure that our autistic kids are also given a chance to enjoy Christmas as much as we do.

In this article, we offer you tips to help your autistic child survive Christmas.

To Decorate or Not?

Many autistic child are completely over the top in their love for all things Christmas (Lara!) but many others cannot stand the changes, decorations and all the fuss.  For some children it may be better to have no decorations at all.  Take some time to talk to your child about their expectations and likes and dislikes, or make a decision based on their reactions from previous years.

Decorate Gradually

If you choose to decorate, start putting your Christmas decorations up early.  It's usually better to start early and progress gradually when you have an autistic child in the house. This ensures that they get enough time to adjust to the lights and sounds that accompany these decorations. It limits their sensory overload and helps them to enjoy the holidays better.

Help Them Prepare

If you help your kids prepare for Christmas, you will be giving them an opportunity to calm down their sensory overloads. Try opening small and simple presents before the holidays start so that they can get accustomed to the sounds, and feel.

Take them to visit others or invite some friends to the house.  Small parties where they mingle with other people will help them prepare for the onslaught of people over the festive season. This will make them become more comfortable with everything happening as the holiday approaches.  If socialising outside their comfort zone is a no then explain this to others, friends and family will understand,

Include Them in the Planning

When you include your kids in the planning process, you will be giving them the opportunity to comprehend what will be happening as Christmas approaches. Take them with you to shop for Christmas decorations. Listen to their opinion and let them choose what they like as well. They will get used to these decorations and the process will go a long way in making their Christmas an enjoyable one.

Keep Familiar Things

When trying to make an autistic child comfortable for the Christmas holiday, it is important to keep things familiar around them. If you are to invite friends over, bring friends they are already comfortable with. Do routine chores that they already know and understand. Cook foods they are already accustomed to.

If you do want to go outside the usual routine with people or food, it would be worth doing a practice run so your child knows what to expect,  Have grandma over, cook one new dish each week in the run up to the big day, play party games after dinner, and do whatever else you can to prepare your child.

Simplify Everything

Everyone tends to become too excited during the Christmas holidays which is not easy for autistic children. Try to make sure that everything is as simple as possible. Discard some traditions that might upset the children.

For instance, do not engage in a gift unwrapping marathon if they don't like surprises.  Opening one or two presents a day will be safer and gentler than a huge mountain of gifts.  If your child doesn't like opening presents ask people to contribute to something like an annual pass to their favourite attraction or theme park.  They will enjoy a year of days out far more than the pressure to open gifts.

Be Adaptable

Do not have a rigid schedule with your child during the Christmas holidays. Be flexible and easily adaptable to whatever circumstances you might find yourself in with your child. Prepare and practice as much as you can in advance, but then work around what they feel and how they react to help them be as comfortable as they can be.

Ask for Help

Since this will be a family affair, ask for help from your other family members. Everyone should chip in to make sure that the child feels comfortable, so explain as much as you can and ask that everyone lowers their expectations of your child's behaviours and reactions.

Let others help out wherever they can and you will have an uneventful Christmas with plenty of happiness and joy rather than meltdowns and hard times.

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