The following article was written by consultant, Jodi Tucker and was originally published here in her ‘Kids Matter’ newsletter.
Most of us see Christmas as a welcome excuse to break from the old routine, do lots of socializing, and give and receive presents. But the holidays can prove challenging for children and adults on the autistic spectrum, who find change, crowds and surprises difficult to handle. Many children with ASD love Christmas but their social difficulties, sensitivities about touch, taste and noise, and untypical reactions to certain situations, have led Kids Matter to approach this part of the year a little differently.
Christmas preparations should start for the family in late November to get children ready for changes at home. Give kids a countdown of ‘sleeps’ before the decorations go up and then again before they come down.
A visual calendar can hang in their bedroom and every nightstand and count the sleeps until Christmas Day. The calendar can be a sheet of paper with a square representing each day. All other squares are blank apart
from Christmas Day, which has present-bedecked stickers on it. We appreciate that all children are different, so what works for one may not suit another. We also suggests that some might benefit from having more events marked on their visual calendar, such as when the school holidays begin and end, when they can expect visitors and so on. Finding out when preparation will begin at your child’s school and then starting your family Christmas at home at the same time is another suggestion.
One Christmas inevitability for children is the annual school performance. If you find this upsets your child to much ask for him or her to be exempt from the performance. This isn’t an essential life skill.
You may also want to try introducing the play and costumes slowly to your child and get him excited about being in a performance. Over time they might come to really enjoy it.
Many children autism aren’t good at faking delight if they get an unwanted gift. Friends and relatives should always ask mum and dad what the kids would like.
Managing Christmas Day.
* Put batteries in toys in advance so that they can be played with straight away
* Introduce one toy at a time, this way children are not overwhelmed
* Give your child some quiet time with an activity at key moments for your other children, such as when they are opening presents. Let your child play on the computer or watch a favorite DVD in a Christmas-free zone at these times
* Father Christmas Sometimes the sight of a man dressed as Father Christmas can make children on the autism spectrum scream and run in the opposite direction. If you are taking your child to a Christmas event, it may be wise to prepare him for the fact he might see a man dressed in a red suit by showing him a photo of a man dressed in a Santa suit
* When putting up decorations it is important to involve your child, even if they do not want to put them up themselves. Doing it within eye-shot or making them aware it is happening. Coming home to find a tree in the middle of the room can be a bit of a shock.
* Make sure that the Christmas meal is ready at a prearranged time.
We hope these tips can ease the hustle and bustle of Christmas a little bit in your life this holiday season. And remember the very best present you can give is to take that child – and that toy – outside, where you can have crazy fun together…out of earshot of the rest of the family.
Jodi Tucker is an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and Clinical Director and CEO of Kids Matter Inc. Her role includes clinical supervision of Kids Matter Inc. Social Skills Programs, Integrated Listening Programs and RDI® Program services. She has 14 years experience working with children and adults in residential, institutional and community settings. Jodi has provided services and individualized/specialized programs for individuals ages 3-23 with developmental disorders including but not limited to: ASD, anxiety disorders, OCD, ADD, ADHD, FASD. Her education includes a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and a diploma as a Speech–Language Assistant. Jodi also has 5 years experience as a Mental Health Worker for FHAN. In addition to Kids Matter Inc. clinical services, Jodi is an accomplished advocate mentored under Dr. Hatt. Jodi’s advocacy has contributed to significant changes within the provinces of BC, Alberta, Washington and California in access to services and basic human rights for individuals with disabilities. Jodi currently lives in Abbotsford and has three children ages 8, 15 and 17.