For many children, Christmas is a special and exciting time of year filled with plenty of fun and excitement from the magic surrounding Father Christmas, to receiving gifts and seeing members of the family who they don’t often get to see.
However, for children with autism who are used to routine and are likely to be hypersensitive to noise, taste, touch, smell or bright lights, the Christmas period can be a very stressful time.
So how can you make Christmas more autism-friendly for your child? Take a look at our advice for two key events during Christmas.
The school Christmas party
Many primary and secondary schools across the country will host Christmas parties for their students. The parties often include party games and different food which can be particularly challenging for a child with autism so they may not immediately want to join in with the party, or may not understand the rules of the games.
It’s not uncommon to see responses such as becoming overly competitive with other students, getting frustrated or upset and wanting to leave the party. What can cause the most stress for an autistic child is the disruption to their usual routine. Its therefore important to prepare the child for the change well in advance to help them to feel as comfortable as possible.
Three key tips to prepare for the school Christmas party
- Write and create a visual agenda – including an order for games, what time food will be served. Pin this up on a wall a few days in advance so that all children are aware.
- Teach party games in advance – this will help children with autism to get used to the format of the game.
- Help to negate any overly competitive behaviour with a social story – write and explain a social story which will help all students to understand that rules are there to keep things fair. By packaging this up as a story, it is more likely that the child will understand and relate to the rules.
The family gathering
Christmas is often the only time of year when the whole family reunites. Aunties, uncles, grandparents and cousins who may live further away are unfamiliar to a child with autism, and can cause confusion and distress if they’re not prepared.
With this comes an attack on the senses; loud noises, new smells and sights which can all add to the upset. All in all, occasions like this can be a big disruption to the usual routine.
Three key tips to prepare for a family gathering
- Pin up a picture of the unfamiliar family members – take time to explain to your child who the people are and how they are related to them and each other.
- Create a countdown to the family’s arrival – beginning two weeks before any extended family are due to arrive, do a daily countdown with your child to prepare them to expect unfamiliarity.
- Highlight a reward space – once the family have arrived explain that the child can have their own space for an hour during the day if they have been on their best behaviour.
These tips are just some of the ways you can help your autistic child feel more comfortable in an environment which could prove challenging.
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