When we think about Christmas, many ideas that are normally pleasant come to mind: time with friends and family, vacations, gifts, lights, walks, decorations, etc. But for some families, Christmas with children with autism also means a change in routine with many new things that are not always fully tolerated and understood.
In general, these holidays are highly anticipated and considered very fun, but how do you face Christmas with children with autism?
As we know, children with ASD suffer from a sensory integration disorder, since much of the information they receive from the environment around them and from their own body is not being managed correctly by their Central Nervous System, and as a consequence , non-adaptive responses appear in it. Therefore, we must always take into account the load of stress that this Christmas season can generate for our children:
- The disappearance of the school routine, having more “free time” and trips to a family or friends residence, can generate controversy for children who need to structure and organize their time.
- The large amount of common sensory stimuli at this time, such as lights, smells and noises, etc., can help increase our children’s fears and worries and consequently cause disorganized behavior and negative reactions to it.
- Obsessions may appear with some Christmas activities because children really like them and cause a problem for families when they disappear.
Due to all this, it is important to channel the increase in stress in our children, and to do so we show you a series of tips:
- Try to preserve your routine as much as possible during the Christmas period: time to wake up, meal times, various activities of daily life, etc.
- Provide moments of calm for the child . You have to be attentive and have a quiet place where he can take refuge when he is stressed or overloaded. It may be beneficial to have sensory objects ready to help you calm down and manage stressful situations.
- Create a social story . Anticipation can be essential to show them the important moments of the day and detail what will happen at a specific moment: the act of discovering the gifts, opening them, the arrival of the guests, the meal, the moments of play, the moments of calm, etc
- Involve children in Christmas decoration : always try to decorate the house equally, create clear rules about what can and cannot be touched, decorate progressively, as well as prepare them for removing decorations and returning to “normality” once this season happens.
- Anticipate the surprise of the gifts. For many children, surprises can be problematic or become an obsession, so you can practice giving and opening gifts, taking turns, establishing the time and number of times the gift will be talked about, etc.
- Anticipate the child about the visits that will be received during this time: prepare a photo album and review it together, use dolls to represent the Christmas table, decorate the tree with family photos, etc.
Remember that no one knows your child better than you, so working on adapting and anticipating problems that may arise at this time can ensure that Christmas with children with autism at home is enjoyed to the fullest.
Andrea Pérez , Occupational Therapist