For autistic children and their families, Christmas can be exciting and daunting all at once. In the spirit of the twelve days of Christmas, we’ve got twelve tips for not only surviving but enjoying this festive season:
1. Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more.
A lot of changes occur around Christmas time which can be highly stressful for autistic people. Having regular conversations, using a social story or displaying visual reminders are just some helpful ways to support preparations for change.
2. Don’t overload your (metaphorical) plate.
The end of the year is always incredibly busy, from school events to Christmas parties and everything in between. Although the pressure to attend everything can be intense, be mindful that people with autism (and their carers) need more time to rest and recover after social events to avoid burnout.
3. Grab your gifts early.
Whether it’s due to special interests or safety concerns, traditional presents may not be appropriate for your autistic child. As suitable gifts might be harder to find, avoid disappointment (and the crowds) by grabbing them sooner rather than later. And if the thought of going to the shops overwhelms you, buy online.
4. Keep a routine (where you can).
Although the festive season brings a lot of changes, that doesn’t mean all routines have to go out the window. Whether it’s as simple as keeping up therapy activities at home or eating meals at the same time, your autistic child or young person will appreciate some continuity during this busy period.
5. Allow for choice.
By allowing your child or young person to participate in activities and decisions that affect them (where appropriate), they’ll feel acknowledged, respected and therefore more likely to participate in the festivities where they can and wish to.
6. Consider your entire family.
Although your autistic child might not engage with many Christmas traditions, that shouldn’t mean the rest of your family misses out. Consider how compromises can be reached with a child’s siblings or other family members to make some of their Christmas wishes come true.
7. Pack a snack (or two).
Although your aunt’s turkey might be a fan-favourite on Christmas Day, don’t expect your autistic child to agree. Bringing separate snacks or meals for your child to eat ensures they don’t go hungry and can even participate in mealtimes.
8. Stay safe around water.
Plenty of us will be spending this scorching Christmas in and around the water, which can pose some additional safety concerns for autistic children. Assess the area and your child’s swimming capabilities before they enter the water and ensure someone is always supervising.
9. Have a plan for the plan.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t go to plan. Whether it’s your own autism-friendly snacks or a quick exit plan in the event of a meltdown, make a plan and don’t be afraid to use it.
10. Prioritise your boundaries.
Our boundaries are important, particularly in moments of heightened stress and responsibility. Don’t feel pressured to entertain conversations, activities or events you or your child aren’t comfortable with.
11. Celebrate your way.
Whether it’s a ban on flashing fairy lights or listening to the same carols on repeat, Christmas should be about one thing: having fun your way!
12. Don’t forget yourself.
Parents are their child’s first and best advocates, but sometimes that means their own needs and wishes get left behind. Take time for yourself this Christmas to relax, recharge and reflect on what a good job you’ve done!
For more information, visit autismawareness.com.au.