12 steps event

Christmas can be such a wonderful time of the year, but for some of us it can be full of anxiety, stress and uncertainty. The lack of routine and the uncertainty of it can really unsettle a child with ASD.Dylan finds Christmas particularly hard. One year he was so excited in the lead up to Christmas and then on the 24th he decided Christmas was not going to happen he wanted it to be the 26th and he would open his presents on the 26th. It was all too overwhelming for him. Over the years I have learnt how to reduce this stress for Dylan and for our family. Below I have put my 12 top tips to surviving an Autistic Christmas.
1. Simplify
Christmas is a time full of over stimulation. Lights, tinsel, music, more people coming and going and a lack of routine.
Try to keep the Christmas decoration simple, choose low warm white lights on your tree instead of the colourful ones or ones that flash.
I choose wooden and non breakable decorations for the tree. Just in case your little one decides to have a melt down by the tree or is fascinated by the lovely glass balls and they end up smashed on the floor.
2 Guests
Only invite people that you know are going to help around the house and who are not going to get offended easily . You want people who are going to help you get dinner ready and who will help tidy up. Perhaps pre warn your guests that your child might not give the reaction they are hoping for when giving them a gift. Dylan has a wonderful knack of telling people exactly what he thinks of the present he receives . Sometimes he will just say “yes ok” and other times he will say “I hate that” and storm off.
3 Presents
Try and avoid surprises of any kind. Most children with ASD hate surprises and this is no different when it comes to presents. If your child is going to spend the build up to Christmas worrying about what they will get, then you are better off telling them what they are going to be getting. Mummy always has a direct line to Santa.
4 Time Out
Create a safe space where you are spending Christmas. If you are home make sure that your Child’s room is out of bounds for anyone other than them. This is their safe space where they can retreat too. If your going to family or friends make sure you ask ahead if there is a room or a quiet spot where you can set your child up his /her safe space. Keep their ear defenders and some toys or iPads in there so that they can check out for a little bit. Even better If you have a pop up tent take it with you as it will be a space that your child is comfortable with.
5 Go With The Flow
Don’t make any plans to go out with friends or family. If your child is having a bad day, you don’t need the added pressure of feeling like you are letting anyone down. See how everyone is feeling on the day and if they are feeling good, you can then make some plans to go out. If family want to see you then tell them to come to you, its going to be a lot better if your child is in an environment they feel most comfortable in. Get them to bring food and snacks and help out.
6 Listen
Be led by your child. It really is just another day, its more about our need to have an inclusive Christmas not theirs. If they come down and open all their presents in one go and then play on iPad for the rest of the day, then let them. Spend some time with your other children and family. Routines are disrupted and it can be really unnerving for children with ASD so it is important to follow your child’s lead.
7 Getting out
Getting out of the house is important other wise everyone will get cabin fever. Have a holiday calendar with a few carefully planned outings on it. Perhaps one thing a day that you can all do together. By having a ‘Holiday routine’ It will make your child feel more secure and in control. Plan some autism friendly outings such as autism friendly movie screenings, bowling ect. Make sure when planning an outing that you have a beginning, a middle and an end. For example. 1. Get in the car. 2. Arrive at Movies 3. Watch the movie 4. Back in the car again. 5. Go home. This way your child will know what to expect next and it will make the whole outing a lot calmer for everyone.
8 Me Time
Schedule some me time in your calendar. Book a baby sitter ask a trusted friend or grandparents in advance to take care of the children, even if its for 10 mins. Take a bath, go for a walk alone or even reading a book in bed. Its so important to take care of your self and your needs . Remember you need to put the oxygen mask on your self before you child on the aeroplane. The same applies to everyday life. Schedule in some time with your partner or friends and go out for a few drinks and let your hair down. I know this is hard to do but you really need time out. With out a strong foundation the whole house falls down. So for me this is THE most important step out of the 12.
9 Clothing
Keep your child sensory needs in balance by letting them wear what ever is comfortable to them. If they want to wear their mine craft pjs all day, let them. If you go out and want to wear them thats ok too. It will be one less thing for them to process. A comfortable child a happy child.
10 Food
I don’t know many ASD children who do not have an issue with food. Don’t put your self under added pressure to make a big Christmas meal and expect everyone to sit down and hold hands and sing songs. We need to get the image of the picture perfect family out of our minds. I don’t think it really exists. Not one with a child with ASD anyway. Make your own traditions, if fish fingers is all your child will eat, well then the new Christmas tradition is to ear fish fingers on Christmas day. If you want to make a Christmas dinner then perhaps feed your child first and then settle them with an activity they enjoy or in front or a movie or iPad, so you can enjoy your Christmas dinner with the other members of the family.
11 Games
Have a few games that you know your child will enjoy playing and that your other children or family members also like to play. Jenga is a big winner in our family and Dylan loves the anticipation of not knowing when its going to fall over. It’s also a chance for other children to get involved and to bond with their siblings.
12 Let go
Give your self a pat on the back mama. You did it. You have survived another year of the highest highs and lowest lows. Now it’s the end of the year its time to have a drink and say, how proud you are of your self. It’s not easy being a mama, let alone being a mama to a child with ASD. Reach out ask for help from this wonderful community of parents that are all around us, let go of the guilt and any other emotion that comes up, and smile.