Supporting Children with Autism over the Festive Period

Christmas!  It generally brings up mixed feelings for each one of us. Feelings of joy, excitement, and perhaps some element of stress and panic!

But imagine if you were particularly bothered by bright lights, if sudden unexpected sounds really hurt your ears, you’re expected to try unfamiliar food at strange times of the day, and there’s a tree in the front room which smells funny and the branches make your skin itch. There is no school during the week and your routine is out the window which makes you feel anxious and out of control!

These are just a couple of things which we know a child or young person with Autism may be experiencing over this festive period. Below are some helpful tips to help you support them!

Preparing them for the changes that take place over the holidays is important in helping them to manage anxiety and gain understanding of what’s happening.

A social story can describe what will happen over Christmas with photos to illustrate so that they know what to expect. Reading children’s stories about Christmas (the more realistic ones!) or looking at photos of last Christmas and talking about what happened, might be just as affective for some people with autism.

Some children or young people with autism get very excited about Christmas and ask about it for months before hand. You could use a simple calendar with days of the week and a photo or symbol of the main thing happening on that day to count down to Christmas. Make sure you include other fun things in the run up to Christmas too. If this is too much for your child or young person you could try just today and tomorrow or even just a daily schedule to give them an idea of what to expect. 

Showing them photos of new places and people they may be seeing can also help prepare them.

Decorate gradually, try to get them involved as much as possible so the whole house doesn’t change overnight.

Consider the wrapping paper you use, the less ‘busy’ the better underneath an already highly stimulating tree!

Try to keep anchor points within their day; such as making sure breakfast, lunch and tea are all roughly similar times and use a visual schedule to support this for them.

Ensure they have somewhere that remains the same and a safe place for them to go to if the festivities get a bit too much; Perhaps making sure you don’t decorate or change their bedroom in any way will act as a place of retreat for them.

You can also help them to develop a ‘calm box’ of items which include their favourite music, playdough, a weighted blanket or a toy.  

Although we may like them to eat a roast dinner, sit at the table for the family meal, open presents, and sit around the tree, we have to remember these are our social ‘norms’ which are difficult for them to understand and manage. It’s important to not force it – it might just be one too many for them.

From all of us here within the Seashell Outreach Therapy Team, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope you enjoy some quality time with your loved ones over this period.