Christmas can be a very difficult time for many children on the Autistic Spectrum. The sheer chaos that ensues from changes in routine added to the growing anticipation could be a recipe for stress and behaviour problems. Strategies that help the child visualise the period may be helpful for some.
Helping children to cope by using visual images.
Make a timetable – maybe for weeks to begin with and then into days nearer the event.
Use photographs and cut outs from magazines to explain what is happening (stores stocked with cards, presents and such things).
Obtain dates of events from schools and clubs and insert these into the timetable.
Use specific dates for putting up the tree and decorations or baking the cake.
Mark off, on the calendar, events as they happen – so the child can progress visually through the time. Some children prefer an actual ‘washing line’ with events pegged on and taken off on completion.
SOCIAL STORIES could be used to help the child understand the WHY behind some activities – WHY do the shops start selling Christmas items in September??? (There is no other commercial event between summer and Christmas – also they have so many things to sell the shops start early – the shop hopes if you will buy from there and not from another shop.)
Christmas Fayres happen early to enable people to buy gifts in good time before the shops get far too busy – with too many people rushing around.
Build into the timetable details of the removal of Christmas decorations – tree and so on to prepare the child for a return to ‘normal’. Photographs of previous years may help – a kind of before and after shot – to remind the child what the house looks like decorated and a reminder of the home in its usual state.
Some children need structure in the holiday break from school and a timetable with activities on may help. Many children may need to be reminded of schoolwork with reminders of how to do certain schoolwork tasks before returning to class.
For some, the extra noise, sights and smells of this time of year are just too much –so maybe consider NOT taking the child shopping at this time and allow times every day for the child to ‘chill out’ and be alone and quiet.
Receiving presents can also be problematic. Many do not like surprises and so it can be best to pre-warn the child of what his/her gifts are going to be – relatives may have to be told what to buy. Practice the art of ‘accepting’ an unwanted gift – Give the child some idea of stock replies to use at this time – ‘Thank You’ - ‘That’s nice’
It may help you to know that many children on the autistic spectrum find this time of year very difficult to understand – you are not alone!