Monday 3 December 2018

Christmas tips for autistic families

The Christmas season is well and truly upon us! For some that means the rushing around trying to find the perfect gift starts now, others indulge in the bulk buying of wrap and tape, and for us it means the tree and decorations go up while the box with the Christmas films and CDs comes out. Whilst I stop to spare a thought for those who struggle for whatever reason at Christmas-time, I do have to admit to this being my favourite time of the year despite all the extra stress. 

Last year I wrote a post about How to help a child with PDA at Christmas, after having made it through eight festive periods since our daughter was diagnosed with the Pathological Demand Avoidance profile of autism. Now I'm happy to be able to share a guest post suggesting a few more helpful Christmas tips for autistic families. This could help many stay sane over this season!


Christmas tips for autistic families
Hi, my name is Jade and I am delighted to guest post here on Steph’s two Girls.  I really love Steph’s blog and I have learnt so much about PDA and anxiety from her.  I blog over at The Autism Page where I share information and resources related to autism.  My two boys are a bit younger than Steph’s girls at 5 & 3. My post today is my tips for Christmas with an autistic child.
I love Christmas! It has always been something I look forward to.  I want my children to enjoy it and grow up looking forward to Christmas as well.  My eldest is autistic and really struggles when things are different, he loves routine and needs to understand what is happening.  Christmas is a time of year when everything is different, decorations and lights are everywhere, new smells, crowds and lots of socialising all things that autistic children can struggle with.  For me the absolute key is preparation.
From the start of December we have lots of Christmas activities on the calendar, Christmas fairs, festivals, visiting friends and family.  When we have new or different activities coming up I try to make sure my son has some understanding of what will be happening. This can include social stories or visual aids.  For example, tomorrow we go to his school Christmas fair so before bed tonight I will show him some pictures and talk about what to expect. I will repeat this in the morning and give him the pictures to look at in the car on the way.  It makes such a difference and it’s so easy to print off a couple of photos to really help him to visualise what will be happening and prepare himself for it. I had a real lightbulb moment watching Anne Hegerty on I’m a Celeb when she was talking about the need to visualise something fully before she was able to do it.  It made me realise why my son takes so long with his visuals and how he can then actually enjoy the activity .
One of my favourite things as a child was my advent calendar.  We are having a book advent calendar this year as both my boys are very into books and it worked really well last year.   So I have wrapped up 24 Christmas books from The Little Elves to Father Christmas Needs a Wee and every morning we will open a new book together.  You don’t have to use Christmas books but for us this is a great way to read, visualise and talk about Christmas and everything that comes with it.  
Most activities I do with my kids over the next month will be related to Christmas:
Making gingerbread men
Wrapping up presents
Making Christmas cards

Every small thing helps to develop more understanding and positive memories of Christmas.  If my son is involved in wrapping up a present it is easier for him to understand it is for someone else. Thinking about those little triggers and what may help to avoid them can make everything easier.
Change can be really difficult for many autistic children and coming home to find the whole house decorated can be very upsetting or very overstimulating.  Now, we just decorate downstairs and keep it focused on the living room and hallway. There are no decorations upstairs or in the Kitchen so if it gets too much he can go to a different room.  I also make sure we decorate as a family. The first weekend in December we get the tree out, we have a plastic one so Dad and the kids can build it while I untangle all the lights!
Anytime I want to move furniture around / decorate or make changes to a room I involve the kids.  If they are there when the changes happen they can be part of the process. No more coming home to find everything in the wrong place with no warning.  I learnt this the hard way but actually it’s much more fun doing these things together.
Special treat
As a child some of the best things about Christmas are those special treats, the present you really wanted or the visit to see Santa.  Take the time to work out what your child would really enjoy. I think my kids are a bit unsure about the whole meeting Father Christmas thing but I still want them to experience this.  A couple of year ago I took the boys to see Santa at the local shopping centre and as you can imagine waiting in a busy line to then see a strange man and be expected to have a photo with him did not go down well! Now we go to a Santa Train which is local to us, we get to go on a steam train have a biscuit or mince pie and Father Christmas comes along and gives out a gift to each child.  There is no waiting and they are excited to be on the train so Santa and a present is just a bonus, this works perfectly for our family.
Christmas Eve
Christmas Day is a big family day for us with all the extended family.  So to counterbalance this we have Christmas Eve alone just me, my husband and the kids.  After lunch we are home to relax all afternoon as a family. We have started a tradition of the Christmas Eve box filled with some activities and presents for that afternoon.  This year I am doing a Zog themed box as the boys are big Julia Donaldson fans and Zog one of our favourite books. Zog will also be the TV animation this Christmas which we are really looking forward to.
We have pizza (one of the few things my son will eat) in front of a film and try to have a relaxed evening at home.  
Christmas Day
Christmas day can be very overwhelming for many reasons. This year I am hosting Christmas, with my husband is on kids duty, while I cook and host.  We have planned that my husband will take the kids out to the park in the morning while I get on with the cooking. This way they have some fresh air and are not bursting with energy at the dinner table.
Again making sure my son has a plan for the day, who will be coming and what is happening is very important.  The best thing about hosting is if it gets too much my son can go to his room for a bit of quiet time. Hopefully the rain will hold off and the kids can play in the garden or upstairs for a bit as all being in one room all day is too much for most of us.   
Lots of presents all in one go is definitely too much for my son and present giving can be a bit manic in our family.  I try to make sure my son has his presents from us in his stocking which he can open in his own time or on Christmas Eve.  If there is a main present it will be given in the morning with no one else around. Then when it comes to the big present swap on Christmas day my son is free to go upstairs and avoid it and he can have his presents when he is ready for them.  I know this is not necessarily how everyone wants the day to go but I have chosen one demand for the day and that is that I would like my son to sit at the dinner table. I will prepare him for that. I have let go of the idea of pleasing everyone with Christmas expectations, I want my kids to enjoy Christmas and if he doesn’t sit at the dinner table that will be fine too.  

I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and enjoy the festive season xxx

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page. If you are looking or more information on Pathological Demand Avoidance, why not try some of these, my most popular posts?

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

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