Friday, 7 December 2018

How we got an Elf on the Shelf our autistic kids can cope with

The Elf on the Shlef our autistic kids can touch

December came and so did a new comment from our youngest, Jane. “Sarah and Julian both have a magical Elf on the Shelf that talks to Father Christmas.” After a few days of  ‘Elf on the Shelf this..’ and ‘Elf on the Shelf that..’ it became apparent that what Jane was really after was an Elf of her own. She even made a video to Santa on my phone that I found late on Monday night. But Elf on the Shelf is a bit difficult in our house.

Jane is a stronger believer in all things magical. She will 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 would only assist me in the chaotic run up to Christmas. So what’s the challenge?

Apart from the obvious disaster if our new 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 make 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 is not going to ‘get’ Elf on the Shelf anytime soon.

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

In addition, Anthony, will be petrified about being seen by the Elf and what the Elf will ‘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 was watching out more for bad behaviour than delighting in the kids trying their best, being helpful or kind.  Anthony will worry he is not good enough.  We want to boosting his self esteem at the moment. Being different when you are 10 years old is challenging.

So, the Elf on the Shelf is coming to our home – today in fact. But instead of the usual book and usual rules, our Elf, has been selected by Father Christmas for a special mission in our home. And sent a letter in response to Jane’s video, ahead of his/her arrival letting her know there was no need to worry about it.  There is even the benefit of letting Jane know it's OK should the Elf become accidentally damaged.

We could just remove the book when the box arrives, but I found I can just remove three pages (contact me if you want details on how to do this) and the book still makes sense, it just misses out about not being touched. I think the letter also helps to promote good behaviour for Anthony, rather than worrying about poor performance.  Well done Elf!

UPDATE:  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.  Fortunately, the Elf in our home only takes a direct route to the North Pole, via the living room chimney, and is always found back in the living room just the new place she (yes, ours was a girl) decided to land.  She doesn't go into the rest of the house.  No wandering Elf, no worries.   If Anthony is particular concerned, he just asks the Elf to send a message to Father Christmas (Mary Poppins style) that night instead.  We can even leave her a note paper and pencil and then she doesn't need to move.  Magically the note paper goes to Father Christmas at night so it has disappeared in the morning.

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.


  1. Ah we had similar issues. We introduced a soft cuddly elf without the box, book or rules and he just has fun every night getting into funny positions while the girls sleep. We've had him about 4 years now and they love him!

    1. That sounds like fun. I know quite a few people with their own elves. Glad the girls love him :-). Thanks for commenting Steph xx

  2. My kids are too old for Elf on the Shelf and it wasn't a thing for them growing up. I can see the issues it must pose for you. I love your poem. #KCACOLS

  3. I think it is great that you have tailored the elf on the shelf idea to work for your family, I like the idea of keeping it positive. My kids said they didn't want an elf as they thought it was spying on them. #KCACOLS

  4. It is lovely that you have found a way for your children to be able to join in with the festivities. I hope you all enjoy the run up to Christmas. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time.

  5. We've never done elf on the shelf. I can see the challenges it presents to your household and it's interesting to read how you've overcome them. #kcacols

  6. I love your poem. We haven't introduced Elf on the Shelf. I can't decide if I want to, to be honest. #KCACOLS

  7. We've never done Elf on the Shelf but our oldest already has one on her birthday list - not sure where I'll find one in August though! #KCACOLS


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