For a lot of people, Christmas is a time for joy and celebration.
For others, it can all be overwhelming. Different routines, bright Christmas lights, Christmas music everywhere, busy shops, Christmas crackers, extra social gatherings, a strange man in a red suit, and decorations changing your home, school, or supermarket.
See below for some tips to a happy Christmas.
What are your expectations for your child on Christmas Day?
Is the goal for your child to have a happy day, or to participate in activities/rituals that others find enjoyable, but they may not? We often have expectations with how the day will go that we don’t even stop to think about this.
Remind yourself that it is ok if your child doesn’t give their extended family members a hug, or doesn’t want to open their presents all at once and immediately start playing with them. Your child may even prefer to be given gifts without any wrapping or surprise element.
Involve your child where you can, and where they enjoy it. Try not to put pressure on yourself or your child - they might have more fun when not conforming to a whole lot of Christmas rituals.
Have a space for your child to relax:
Christmas can be overwhelming for anyone. Have a chill out spot in your home where your child can be alone, where it is quiet, and that hasn’t been changed with Christmas decorations.
Tell your child in advance about changes to routine:
Reduce the stress of routine changes by;
Giving your child plenty of warning and reminders about the change in routine, even if it is a small change!
Use visuals! Whether this is a visual schedule outlining the events of the day, or a social story explaining what is going to happen and what they can do e.g. What to say when you open a disappointing gift.
Make a list, or look at photos of people they will see on Christmas Day. You could even talk about how the child may greet them (if at all, remember Tip #1!)
If an activity is particularly difficult, you could use a timer to show how long your child needs to stay there. It is important not to go over the time you have set.
Give prior warning about when the Christmas decorations will come down and the house will return to normal!
If you are wanting a Santa photo with your child, some places around New Zealand (including Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland) have a ‘Sensory Santa’ option. This includes booking a time so no waiting in a long line, and no background music. To find details, search “Sensory Santa” and your location.
If your city does not have a Sensory Santa option, contact your local shopping centre and discuss your child's difficulties. Most centres will be able to support you in some way, whether that is moving you straight to the front of the line when you arrive, or asking you to come in before officially opening the Santa photo line for the day.
Have a happy holiday season!
From the team at Acorn Autism.