Thursday 21 November 2019

An Elf on the Shelf for our autistic kids

The Elf on the Shlef our autistic kids can touch

According to The Elf on the Shelf website, Santa sends most of his Scout Elves during Scout Elf Return Week, which runs from next Monday 23rd November to 1st December.  Many households will be following the tradition that reminds kids not to be bad as we approach the busy and exciting festive season.  But traditionally, the idea of an Elf that couldn't be touched and moved around could freak out our family, that happens to include autistic kids.  That was until last year.

Jane is a stronger believer in all things magical. She loved the idea of Elf on the Shelf and desperately wanted one of her own. She even made a video to send to Santa on my phone. She would have read and understand what to do and not do with Elf on the Shelf. She can be a wind-up artist with her eldest brother in particular and a little Elf looking out might assist me in the chaotic run up to Christmas. So what’s the challenge?

Apart from the obvious disaster if our dog ever got hold of Elf on the Shelf, Jane has two older autistic brothers. Despite being two and five years her senior, Jane is in many ways ahead of them. Her older brothers have a couple of traits that would make a regular Elf on the Shelf a bit more challenging in our home.

We have our eldest autistic son, Anthony, who is an avid rule follower. Not to say he’s always great at doing what he is asked, but he can become very frustrated when others don’t follow rules. He also believes in rules having consequences. And this is a great thing for him to know. But not so great with Elf on the Shelf. Because of the other brother.

David follows rules – but really only the ones he has made himself. David doesn’t really talk. Around a quarter of all autistic people are non-verbal but even David’s other types of communication are relatively limited. He can follow basic instructions at the time they are given. Retaining a long term instruction is however very challenging, and even more so when it appears to be pointless. David was not going to ‘get’ Elf on the Shelf anytime soon.

The problem was clear. David would end up touching the Elf. He is very sensory seeking and would want to explore it.  And even if by some miracle if he didn't, something would happen that means it gets knocked down or grabbed by the dog. Jane would be in pieces because the magic will be gone and how will Father Christmas know she has been good now?

In addition, Anthony, would be petrified about being seen by the Elf and what the Elf would ‘report back’ to Father Christmas. He tries his best, but as a kid with autism and ADHD, he struggles to be what most people would perceive as ‘good’ all the time. He forgets things, gets distracted and often doesn’t end up doing things he is asked.

He really only responds well to positive reinforcement. It’s one of the reason’s we generally applaud good behaviour, but it felt a bit as if the Elf would be watching out more for bad behaviour than delighting in the kids trying their best, being helpful or kind.  Anthony would worry he is not good enough.  We want to boosting his self esteem at the moment. Being different when you are 11 years old is challenging.

Anthony was also scared of the idea that Elf on the Shelf moved around at night, particularly that the Elf would come into his room.   He'd seen lots of videos on YouTube about an Elf wandering around and nearly getting caught.

So we needed an Elf that didn't wander around and at most just moved position so she didn't get cramp. Our Elf needed to be looking for good behaviour, not reporting on bad behaviour. In fact she had an easy job, because instead of a nightly report, Santa really only needed one summary report on Christmas Eve when he came to the house.  By looking at overall behaviour, our Elf would allow for mistakes and take into account being sorry if things went wrong. We also needed an Elf that liked to be touched and was OK if something 'happened' to her.

So, we took this into account last year and I'm glad to say that it went well enough that the Elf on the Shelf will be back at our home soon.

Because, instead of the usual book and usual rules, our Elf, has once again been selected by Father Christmas for a special mission in our home.  She sent a letter (see copy below), in response to Jane’s video and ahead of her arrival letting us know there was no need to worry about her coming.  It covers the challenges and even includes the information of letting Jane know that it's OK should the Elf become accidentally damaged.

We could just remove the book that comes with the Elf on the Shelf, but I found I can just remove some of the pages (contact me if you want details on how to do this) and the book still makes sense, it just misses out the bits we don't want to include. I also think the Elf's letter also helps to promote good behaviour for Anthony, rather than worrying about poor performance.

So finger crossed, we'll have a successful guest again this year, all thanks to her special mission.

How are you getting on in Christmas preparations.  Does Elf on the Shelf work well for you?

Dearest Jane this letter I write,
to tell you that I will be leaving tonight.
We got your video, it arrived on our phone,
so now I am coming to visit your home.

I’m an Elf from the magical North Pole,
where it’s snowy, frosty and very cold,
I’ll be put in a box to arrive in the mail,
but I won't come with the regular Elf fairy tale.

For just like people, no two elves are the same,
so you can start by giving me my own special name.
Some elves don’t like touching and want peace and quiet,
But I’m not one of those, I say let’s try it.

You can hug me and squeeze me and tell me your dreams,
I can even be mended if I burst at the seams.
And I’ll do my best to be there and to remind
that it’s good to be you, be helpful and kind.

So I’ll see you tomorrow, I’ll try not to be late,
after all it’s get close to a very important date.
Until then make sure you take care of yourself,
with love from your own Elf on the Shelf.

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