Preparing For Christmas
The Christmas Season and school vacation can be a time of fun and excitement but it can also be a very stressful time for families. Christmas can be a time that assaults our children’s senses. Think for a moment about environments that children with autism thrive in, compared to what Christmas can bring:
|Kids with Autism like:||Christmas brings:|
|Structure||↓ structure and lots of “free time”|
|Routine||Special events, change in bed time routine, meal routine, school routine, etc.|
|Specific sensory stimulation||Lots of lights, music, smells,
different food, sounds
|Logical and literal thinking||Trees that are inside, lights that
are on houses, etc.
|Familiarity||Visiting distant relatives and friends, strangers in malls, carolers at the door, Santa, etc.|
Tips to Help Prepare your Family for the Holiday Season.
Keep the regular routine as much as possible. Go to bed at the same time. Eat regular meals. Talk to your extended family about working together as a team. Holidays are a time for schedules and routines to be put aside, but our children need the security that comes along with those routines. Ask certain family members to be a part of your team and give them specific jobs. ( Ie: You can help me by making it a game for Johnny to get into his pj’s at 7pm. Or could you please make sure that the movie starts on time so we can leave at 8pm.)
Be Pro-active. If you know what your child’s triggers are create a plan to help set your family and your child up for success. Extended family members may not understand your child’s diagnoses or the impact that holiday celebrations have on your child; do not feel guilty for setting appropriate parameters that work for your family. See Article: How Can I Help? Ideas and Supports for Extended Family Members.
Plan ahead. Use visuals to show on the calendar what is going to happen throughout the month of December. Make sure you include when you are going to take down the decorations, so that your child feels assured that things will return back to “normal”.
Start to talk about Christmas and school vacation now if your child requires processing time. You can make a holiday scrapbook talking about the people that you will visit, Christmas traditions, etc. Read it together often. Start to talk about past Christmas stories or have your child tell you about what they remember about Christmas holidays. It is a good chance to ask older children what they like about Christmas vacation, what stresses them, or what support they think they will need.
Be active! Tobogganing is a fantastic activity that provides the movement and exercise your body needs to handle the holidays. Other ideas include skating, snowshoeing, building snowmen or forts, going for a walk, go to Zoo lights, swimming, cross country skiing, painting snow with coloured water in squirt bottles, making snow angels, drive around and look at lights (get out at different neighbourhood parks to run around for a few minutes, slide, swing, burn off energy), built indoor forts and obstacle courses…. Just remember that whatever activity you partake in set yourself and your child up for success. Think about the time of day of your activity, how many other people will be participating at that time of day, line ups, waiting turns, noise, etc. An example for attending zoo lights would be to go right at dusk. Most people wait until it is dark. The lights are less stimulating when there is still some light in the sky and the crowds will be lower. Going during the week vs on the weekend will also reduce the crowds.
Be Prepared for the Event. Have a fun bag packed that is meant for entertainment while visiting or attending engagements. Fill it with fun items but don’t forget the necessities: head phones or ear plugs, calming activities, fidgets, soothing and/or security items.
Be Aware of Sensory Overload. Flashing lights on trees, loud Christmas carols, people in costume, etc. can overload your child’s senses. There is so much disorganized noise everyone we go during the holiday season (music, loud voices, multiple conversations, as well as visual noise, bright lights, decorations, etc) that your child may feel overwhelmed quicker than usual. Strong smells during Christmas can bring back memories as well as feelings of being overwhelmed. Be a detective and discover what scents bother your child and what scents they enjoy. Put their favourite smell in a ziplock bag; if a smell is bothering them they can choose a different smell. Be aware of sensory overload with new clothes. Make sure you trial run new clothes if you want your child to wear something special. Fancy clothes can be itchy and uncomfortable. Set your child up for success with comfortable clothing and bring familiar and/or preferred clothing to change into later if necessary.
Keep it Simple. A consistent schedule and structure are important especially with no school to create a framework for the day. Let you child know what is happening the next day so they have time to process and ask questions. Do not overschedule. For the wellbeing of your whole family you may need to say no to some invitations, cancel some engagements if it is an “off” day or reschedule. Be prepared to be flexible and replace the time with fun family time that better suits the abilities of your family in that moment.
Do Not Rush. Set your family up for success by giving yourselves lots of time to get to and from different events. Rushing creates anxiety and anxiety can create difficult moments or meltdowns. Have a bag of fun activities to do, or sing Christmas carols in the car if you arrive early. Use being early into fun family time; tell jokes, draw pictures on frosted windows, have a favourite book on CD, have the supplies to make paper chains, etc. For older children reading, game time, movies, drawing, sketching, doodling are all good ways of passing the time if you are early. See it as a positive, not a waste of time. Being early gives everyone a chance to breathe and relax before entering a hectic environment
Have a Code Word. This works well for older children to be able to indicate that they have had too much stimulation and need a break or need to leave. The code word keeps your child from being embarrassed to ask to leave or to say out loud that they need help. Bathrooms are a great place to take a few moments to decompress and get out of the noise. Finding a quiet room where they can listen to music and have some quiet, alone time is important. Create a plan when you arrive at company or family’s homes. It is important that your child knows that you understand how hard a social outing can be for them and that you are there to help them be successful.
Have fun! Be Realistic! Enjoy each other!
If you would like help creating a personalized plan for your family please make an appointment
with Tracy Tomiak, Family Liaison Counsellor, by calling the front office and talking with Alison or Genevieve.