Christmas holidays bring with them a lot of change which many individuals with autism find challenging. So we have come up with a range of ways in which you can prepare and plan for some of those challenges. We hope these tips will help make this exciting time of year fun for everyone.
Read on for our Christmas holiday tips ….Preparation is key
Spend time before the event preparing for changes
1. Identify which changes may be an issue – for example, change in daily routine, increased noise or distractions, visitors to the house and going to new places.
2. Identify how best to communicate those changes
a. Visually – use a calendar or visual timetable that highlights the key events that are going to occur. Check out our FaceBook page for a fun, visual countdown idea.
b. Vocally – talk about Christmas and what sorts of things you will do as a family. Also involve everyone in the planning and provide lots of choices.
c. Written – write a story together and add photos or pictures of the Christmas tree, decorations, Santa and presents.
d. Role Play and Practice – act out specific events like visiting Santa, opening presents or visiting new places and people.
3. Make sure everyone is involved. Liaise with school or college, extended family and friends to let them know how you are preparing and how they can help. You could also make sure there is a plan for someone to be around the individual as specific changes or events occur.
4. Make sure the individual is involved in a way suited to their skills and needs. Have them help put up the decorations, choose and wrap presents, write out cards, choose the Christmas tree and plan the dinner menu.
5. Plan for presents. Watch and take note of what the individual is interested in. Ask them and anyone else close to them. Check in shops, catalogues and online for ideas. Our list of sensory gift ideas could come in useful. Also take note of things that may cause an issue (loud noises, flashing lights, textures) and pass that info on to others who may be buying presents. The same can be applied to Christmas decorations!
6. Take it slowly.
Start Christmas shopping several months in advance. This way you reduce the time it takes for those noisy, busy shopping trips closer to the holidays. Make changes around the house gradually, putting up a few decorations at a time. Arrange for visitors to stagger arrival times and visiting days. Have several present opening times arranged across the day and holiday period.
Establish a routine
Holidays often involve a break in the typical day-to-day routine. Individuals with autism often struggle when they aren’t sure what’s going to happen, or when there is no activity prepared.
1. Keep as close as possible to your usual daily routine, especially on those days that will involve the biggest changes. For example, mealtimes, washing and dressing are routines that could remain unchanged.
2. Include some of the upcoming changes in your daily routine in the weeks coming up to the holidays.
3. Include some Christmas-free time and activities each day of the holiday period.
4. Include ‘unexpected events’ in the daily routine. Include a variety of surprise activities to your daily routine in the months before Christmas.
Keep calm and enjoy
Predicting and planning for behaviour changes can be a huge help.
1. Create a Christmas-free space in your home and plan specific times and/or activities in that space over the holiday period. In the weeks before Christmas create the space and fill it with activities suited to the individual. Aim for activities that will keep them occupied and help them relax. Then spend time in the space and teach them to ask to go to that space when needed.
2. Teach and practice some relaxation techniques and activities
Look out for Christmas holiday tips from others
Speak to your Sunnyside consultant or get in touch for more advice on preparing for Christmas. Then we can help you put together a support plan tailored to your family member’s skills and challenges.
There are also several articles online from parents and others with further Christmas holiday tips and advice. Check out Stuart Duncan’s Christmas tips and the ‘My Aspergers Child’ article on Surviving Christmas.
We hope these Christmas holiday tips go some way to making this Christmas a fun and eagerly anticipated one for you all.