How to have a happy autism Christmas

We are approaching one of the most special times of the year, Christmas.

Despite the stress the season can bring,  I hope your home is warm, cosy and full of Christmas cheer.

As we all well know routine is key for many of our children and as the Christmas holidays approach this can often be a difficult time for those on the autism spectrum.

While we celebrate with family and friends, these gatherings can create a stressful environment that differs from your child’s daily routine expectations.

I’d like to share with you some actions you can take to prepare your child and ease them into these changes so they too, can enjoy the celebrations and have a joyful and less stressful Christmas.

Prepare a Plan for Christmas

One thing parents with children with additional needs are good at is planning. We plan every day for our children so why should Christmas be any different?

Take control and think in advance about all the ways in which you and your family can enjoy the festive season together. Do not be afraid to say "no thanks" when necessary. Never be pressurised into doing things just because that’s what other people want. This can have a negative impact on your child.

It’s a good idea to plan your Christmas in advance with your family, friends and any support services. This plan should consider your child’s specific needs and meltdown triggers. This means you can explain to your child what you will be doing, when it will happen and who with.

Think about and plan around sensory differences that could cause your child distress or discomfort. Consider ear defenders etc for times of potential sensory overload.

Create or find a quiet space where your child can take a break if they get overwhelmed. You may want this to be a completely Christmas-free area, particularly around the main days of Christmas or at key times when there may be additional stress.

Don’t just plan for Christmas Day. Plan for the whole festive break and give yourself quiet days to recoup if needed.

Especially this year, don’t spend money you don’t have on Christmas gifts you can’t afford.

Make sure you budget for buying Christmas gifts.

Communicate to reduce stress for everyone   

If you’re visiting family and friends, tell them about anything that could help make your visit as stress-free as possible. For instance, turning off Christmas lights, letting you know in advance what the food will be, sharing plans for activities and having a quiet space to escape to.

It’s also a great idea to share this plan with your family and friends.  

Clear communication is also crucial for your children.

During this time of year, there are often many new and exciting experiences that can be overwhelming for autistic individuals.

To help alleviate any anxiety or confusion, it’s important to use clear and concise language when explaining holiday traditions or plans.

Explain clearly what will happen, breaking it down into as much or as little detail as required to reassure your child.

You can also use social stories or other visual aids to explain this plan to your child.

Make Space for Calm

Preparing a calming space in advance can be a great way to plan for the occasional meltdown . It's a good idea to keep a quiet bedroom available with headphones and an iPad, fidget toys, or other comfort objects. Make sure you provide your child with the means to request or access this space.

Make Christmas work for everyone

Take care of your other kids too. If your autistic child has siblings, be sure they don't get pushed aside as you take care of your child with autism. If there are traditions or experiences they love, they should get the chance to enjoy them. That may mean a little juggling and hard work, but your children will thank you!

While it can be nice for everyone to eat together and to try traditional foods, it’s not essential you do this! Even if that means a plate of chicken nuggets for Christmas dinner! Everyone’s happiness on the day is the goal.

Accept the Gift of Help

If friends and relatives offer to help you out during this busy time of year, accept the assistance and do what you need to do! If your child gets overwhelmed in stores, allow yourself the luxury of enlisting a trusted babysitter while you walk to the shops. If you want to go to a party that is unlikely to be autism-friendly, take advantage of respite services or trusted friends and enjoy!

 Make your own traditions

If you’ve been parenting a child with autism, you probably already know how to be flexible. Your daily routines might not look exactly like another family’s routines. Even so, you’ve managed to find a rhythm and make it work. Why should holiday traditions be any different?

Traditions are special because loved ones enjoy them together. They should be as unique as your family! Consider developing a new tradition that allows everyone in your home to enjoy this time of year.

 Finally enjoy yourself

It's easy to get so busy with your child care needs that you forget about your own. You, also need a chance to experience your favourite holiday events, movies, and food. Call on the help of friends and family, if you need to, but be sure you get that special shot of holiday cheer that makes the season joyful!

I hope these tips help and I just want to say Merry Christmas and a joyful new year of Autism Acceptance. 

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