Tuesday 30 November 2021

Helping our autistic kids get ready for Christmas

child under real Christmas Tree

Christmas brings with it many changes.  Despite being a very exciting time of year the upheaval and appearances around the home can cause some stress.  We prepare our autistic and neurotypical kids get ready by writing Christmas cards, making timetables and preparing the home all before this happens.

Preparation is key

Just like everything else we organise and do whether it's returning to school, staying in a new place or something wild like taking the kids zip lining across the Canadian Rockies for the first time, it all starts with preparation.

It's just the same with our home at Christmas.  Thankfully there's a lot of preparation at school for in the run up to Christmas.  The kids know it's coming up at school before anything happens at home. But we talk about it and let them know when things are going to change around the home.  

Getting and decorating the Christmas Tree is one of the key events and we prepare the kids for this.  We can have a countdown calendar so they know when it's coming and going up and use visuals to let them know what is going to happen and learn the Makaton for Christmas Tree.  If there are any new decorations, either go and get them together or bring them out in advance so they can be registered as new additions. 

We get them involved in early Christmas activities too.  Writing isn't easy for many autistic kids as it can involve motor planning and fine motor skills too but they can still join in with either designing, writing or sending Christmas cards and later gifts tags.  This keeps their skills up a little but also reinforces what is coming up... we are sending cards for Christmas and the tags go on the Christmas presents that people will open.  

Aura Print do personalised cards and tags where you can get your own custom craft hang tags for Christmas printed or perhaps have 'fill in the blank' messages so there's less writing involved.  We can help them read the message, that's repeated each time, and then they can write who the card or gift is for and that it's from them.  It's really important that my kids are involved and have a sense of achievement in this.  We hope it will help them understand and develop routines about what to do and enjoy themselves as it gets near Christmas. 

Personalised and bespoke tags

Seeing the change

Even though we have prepared the kids, our middle son in particular needs to see the change. He's had some real difficulty in the past when he's come home and found the living room covered in decorations and furniture rearranged to accommodate a the Christmas Tree. 

This means we have learned that even if the change could cause upset - let him process it happening.  He can see the furniture being moved about - and nowadays he even helps.

He is there when the tree is delivered and is unpacked so there's no big reveal.  Although David and Anthony are hardly involved in decorating the living room and the tree once we get it, it's important that they are there while the rest of us put up the festive decorations.  This gives them time to process what's happening and time to adjust things if they don't seem right.

Sometimes Jane will put some decorations in some odd places and if these are going to cause stress, then we can deal with it right then so no one needs to get upset.  This happened last year when Jane hung decorations on the door handles but to the boys that made the doors look 'wrong'.

Saving safe spaces

While we all love Christmas, it can be a pretty over whelming time with all that goes on.  When it gets busy our kids need somewhere that they can retreat to.  Somewhere that's the same all the time.

This means we have a beautiful tree, decorations and cards in the lounge and a wreath and lights on the front porch, but we don't have anything else in the rest of the home.  Although Jane sometimes has a small tree in her room, we leave everywhere our boys would go decoration free.  This keeps some of the home the same and safe for them to retreat to.

It's not uncommon for our middle son to retreat to the stairs.  He'll sit on the half way landing as a space in the house that's without people, decorations or anything else really.   So we provide as much of this 'same space' as possible for him including his bedroom which is organised to help him remain calm and peaceful. He always has somewhere to go if it gets too much and places to join in when he's really feeling festive!

What tips can you give to help get kids ready?

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