Christmas is just around the corner! This is the most exciting time of the year for most of us. However, for those who live with autism and for the families who look after their autistic members, Christmas can be stressful and challenging.
Why people with autism and their families may find Christmas challenging. As we all know having a daily routine is important for autistic people. During Christmas period, people receiving Christmas gifts, putting on flashing Christmas decorations and loud music everywhere, having guests over for Christmas meal and eating seasonal foods. All of these changes for Christmas period can make people with autism overwhelming and stressful.
Here are a couple of real life examples of the struggles autistic children have experienced during Christmas: (I’m not going to show their names in case it’s against copy right)
Story 1. An 11 year-old autistic boy from England, he likes to lock himself in his room at Christmas period because the house is full of Christmas cards and decorations. He got upset once Christams Day when he was faced with all of his Christmas presents at once. It could take a week to open all of his presents. Also, he has never eaten anything at the Christmas table. ‘It feels terrible because we’re sat around the table and our son is upstairs.’ His father said.
Story 2. A 4 year-old boy and his 15 year-old sister from Birmingham. They both live with autism. Their mother said that they don’t enjoy visiting people or having guests over. Her son would not be sitting with the family to eat Christmas dinner and would be playing in another room. Also, her daughter doesn’t seem to understand the idea of Christmas. The lights and noise can be difficult for them.
How we can have an autism-friendly Christmas and make them enjoy Christmas as we do. Here are some tips you can use to make Christmas as special and enjoyable as possible.
Explain to your family members with autism what Christmas means, what will people do to celebrate it, what will people eat and what will happen so that they can know what to expect. You can explain it by telling them a bed-time story, drawing or playing them a video related to Christmas.
Ask them if they want to put up Christmas decorations together, let them choose where to put them. (Remember not to make any changes in the environment without them knowing, it may cause them confusion and stress)
Having a visual schedule so that they can know when is Christmas shopping, when the school holiday starts and when friends and guests may be visiting.
Try to keep some aspects of their routine the same during Christmas period e.g., bed and wake-up time, meal and snack times.
They may feel anxious by opening unpredictable Christmas presents. Let them know what presents they will be receiving in advance to reduce the anxiety.
Christmas presents do not have to be opened on Christmas morning if they feel stressful to open them all at once. They can be opened a few days before or following Christmas.
Hope you find these tips useful. We wish you all a marry Christmas and happy New Year. Stay safe!