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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A2's guide to a low stress christmas for ASD families

I love Christmas. Always have. Even through my awkward teenage years when visitors were welcome but I would sit silently in a room with them.

As I have got older, it has become even more exciting for me, and with the addition of 2 kiddies to the household, I don't think it could be bigger.

Which also means its stressful!

Having a diagnosis myself as well as 2 kids on the spectrum means that to have the opportunity to enjoy christmas, we need to follow a few rules, and I think that these might be pretty useful to other people in a similar situation.

So, here goes.

1 - PLAN! Spontaneity is nice in its place, but at Christmas, ASD children will be getting wound up in a way its hard to calm them down from. The entire world is throwing Christmas excitement at them. So, have a calendar, or a wall-planner, or a visual timetable they can see, and talk them through what is happening each day so they know what to expect.  At the moment mine says

Dec 18 - School all day
Dec 19 - School half day then playing at home
Dec 20 - Take Daddy to hospital/ playing at home
Dec 21 - Daddy's Birthday
Dec 22 - Playing at home
Dec 23 - Granny and Pappi coming
Dec 24 - Christmas Eve, Uncle AJ coming to stay
Dec 25 - Christmas Day: Uncle AJ, Granny and Pappi visiting

etc..We also always make sure we have a laminated sheet like a social story which has details of what is going on at each point through the day. this gives them much-needed structure and routine.

2 – Minimise unexpected visitors. I know this one seems a little odd. How can you minimise the unexpected?  Well, consider who the most likely people are to come visiting, and get in contact with them pre-emptively. Suggest a day/ time they might like to come round, and agree a date time with them, and stress to them no unannounced visits! I always try to organise a single day, maybe two, over the holidays to have all of our visitors as I find that one day with multiple visitors is easier for our girls (and us!) to handle than a few visitors over multiple days.  This year, we have invited people round for a Boxing Day leftover party, so by the end of the day on the 26th, we will have seen all family who are likely to want to come round.

3 – Have enough for everyone! Its bad enough when NT kids fight over things. Just imagine what its like for ASD kids with their very egocentric world-view and inability to grasp the world view of others. Wherever possible, try to make sure that there is at least 1 of everything available to avoid the inevitable screaming meltdowns when “sharing” is suggested.

4 – keep sensory stimulation to a minimum. Flashing lights, crackers, balloons, music, cooking smells, alcohol: Christmas can be overwhelming for the most well-balanced person. To someone with sensory issues, which come hand in hand with ASD, it really can be too much.  Try to tone this down where you can: static Christmas lights rather than flashing, or ones with a slow pulse, no decorations which play tunes or move.  My girls really don’t like loud noises, so crackers are a no-go (or at best, they have to wear their ear defenders when they pull them) and the fear of balloons popping causes hysteria, so they are right out. Involving the kids with some aspect of helping with the cooking can mitigate the dislike of the odours. Alcohol, I’d recommend holding until the evening when they are not around so that the very strong smell of alcohol (and over-the-top antics of the well-fuelled) don’t upset them.

5 – on Christmas day, give them the opportunity to be excited and open presents, but don’t give them everything at once – it can lead to sensory overload. Try to ensure they only open 1 or 2 gifts at a time and then enjoy those items before moving on to something else. But remember its still important to keep up the...

6 – ROUTINE! As much as possible, get dressed at the same time, eat breakfast at the same time, if you are toilet training, have your potty breaks at the same time.  Nothing makes ASD children more anxious than unpredictability.

7 – Distractions. A good rule of thumb is always have something to hand to distract them with should it look like they are finding it too much

Christmas should be exciting and fun, but there’s no reason it has to be too much for ASD children (and dads like me!) to enjoy with everyone else with a little bit of planning and forethought.

For anyone else reading this who is part of an extended ASD family, please take note of how much work we have to put into keeping calm on Christmas. This is why we don't come to your house, its why we ask you don't arrive unexpectedly, its why, no matter how well-meaning your offer of help is, we've got this covered.  If you really want to help, come when you say you will, bring what you say you will, leave when you say you will and support our decisions and routine.  This will help us keep meltdowns at bad, and ensure that we all have the best Christmas we can.

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