Christmas is a wonderful time for families and friends to celebrate and spend quality time together. However, for some individuals with autism the change in routine can be challenging. Here are some tips on how to reduce stress over the holidays:
Plan in advance
Autistic children and teenagers can find unexpected changes stressful and difficult. To help reduce this, try to plan activities and visits in advance. It is a good idea to discuss what is likely to happen before the occasion occurs. Social stories are a great, visual way to explain things to children/teenagers in a way which they can easily understand. Our Christmas Social Story helps to reduce anxiety by providing children/teenagers with the information they need to feel comfortable with the changes.
Consider Sensory Sensitivities
Smells, sounds and lights can be overwhelming for some children/teenagers during Christmas. Try to consider what your child may find difficult before making purchases. Items such as scented candles, flashing lights, loud music, background TV or too much chatter can be difficult for some autistic people to cope with. Bringing ear-defenders and sunglasses on outings can help with this. Decorations can sometimes be over-stimulating; consider reducing the amount of decorations in the house or restricting them to certain areas or rooms.
Explain to children what presents they are likely to get in advance and consider whether they would prefer their gifts wrapped or not. It is also a good idea to role play receiving gifts and appropriate responses before visiting friends and family. If you are visiting Santa, explain to children in advance what present Santa is likely to give them on the day and what will be under the tree on Christmas morning. Explaining to family and friends that your child may prefer not to be hugged or might find eye-contact uncomfortable can help to prevent your child from being under pressure to conform to neurotypical social expectations during visits.
Calendars and Schedules
A visual calendar can be a great way to help children and teenagers understand what will be happening each day of the holidays and when they will be returning to school. It is a nice idea to start everyday by checking the calendar and discussing what they day will consist of. Many autistic children and teenagers thrive with consistency, try to keep your schedule each day as close to their normal schedule as possible. It can be a good idea to let friends and relatives know the importance of routine for your child also.