So, for those of you with little ones who are at school, I imagine this time of year must be particularly challenging not least because of the following;
- Carol Services
- Timetable changes
- Nativity Plays
- Staff absence
to name but a few of the school based changes.
But what about if we include;
- School holidays
- Visiting relatives
- Christmas Trees and decorations
- Furniture being relocated
- Presents (and the accompanying anxiety)
- All predictability vanished
- Extra people everywhere
And perhaps even;
- Father Christmas himself
- Family events
- Photo ops
- Different foods
- Different clothes
- An abundance of chocolate/sweets and treats everywhere
- Anxiety at its maximum surrounding the idea of being 'good/well behaved/deserving'
This is perhaps the most challenging time of year for us families with children (and adults) on the Autistic Spectrum so I thought I would share with you a few of my ideas designed to make life a little less stressful.
It is my hope that they will help things to run more smoothly (and joyously), in your home too during this Christmas Season.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation.
This cannot be said enough! Prepare to the nth degree!
Let your child create their own special visual timetable (in the form of an advent calendar maybe) so that they can anticipate all the events at school and at home. Let them talk to you about everything that they remember about the changes and how that makes them feel and what they feel they can and cannot cope with.
Enable them to choose, to as large an extent as possible, what they want to participate in and what they don't in the school calendar and respect their wishes. Be the best advocate for child that you can be and ensure that they get the Christmas they want too. Struggling is not a nice way to live at any time but at Christmas, when everyone else is smiling and happy, it must be even worse.
Bribery & Coercion
I think it is all too common that parents begin using Santa (and presents) as a 'carrot/stick' once Christmastime comes around. Children all over the Western world are worrying themselves half to death about their behaviour and whether or not they have been 'good' enough to deserve presents.
It is my firm belief that children will do well if given the environment in which they can do well.
Our special children are already doing their best all the time to manage without breaking down, so at Christmas, when there is so much more at stake, perhaps we should avoid pairing their behaviour with the promise of presents?
A lady told my daughter only the other day that if she 'screamed like that' Santa would hear her and she wouldn't get any presents. Not only was this extremely distressing for my daughter but it was horrible for me too! I do not use this kind of carrot and stick system in my house as a rule (I'm not perfect) and I have to say that to hear it come from a complete stranger was horrifying.
My daughter had been having a difficult (and busy) day and she was getting to the end of her ability to cope (several different shops, in and out of the car, hungry and over-stimulated) and this lady simply made things 100% worse. Sigh.
So, yes, try your hardest to not equate their behaviour with good/bad....they are trying their best.
Please, please, please, unless you have absolutely no choice (or alternatively, they want to come along), let them stay at home! The world is a crappy place for those of us who shun noise, smells, lights, people, being touched and garishness right now! Unless your little one wants to plan a trip (and gets complete autonomy over what happens on that trip, including when to call it quits), don't make them come along.
Keep the number of visiting friends and relations to an minimum, or, at the very least, let your child hide out in their room (or in the room that is most comfortable for them) and do not force them to socialise if they don't want to.
As an Aspie adult I can tell you, being made to kiss, hug and chat to people who are basically a load of strangers, is traumatic and exhausting and certainly not 'fun'!
Please be an advocate for your child and warn any visitors, that if they are bringing presents, to expect them to be unwrapped on sight if they are seen by said children! If they do not wish for this to happen then should wait for the opportunity to 'sneak' them in unseen when they can be safely hidden and not add to the anticipation that our children are already feeling with regard to unopened presents.
Also, tell these same visitors what treats/sweets/foods are acceptable in advance so you don't have repeated meltdowns over food.
If you can, decline any invitations that are non-essential. Visiting lots of different homes is stress-inducing due to the amount of unpredictability.
If you do over-do it our little ones will soon unravel and will not have a chance to regroup and recover, and will therefore end up not enjoying the best bits that Christmas has to offer.
Allow your child/children to take whatever role they wish in decorating the house and tree (or not). If they are anxious about decorations perhaps put them up as late as you can in family areas and allow any other children to decorate their rooms so that they don't miss out.
I guess you may be curious as to how things are going with my brood in the run up to Christmas this year...well, let me tell you!
- I let them choose when to put up the tree and allowed them to dress it with me (spiking my OCD to the max let me tell you!).
- They are able to make a Christmas List the whole year through and add to it and take things away from it right up until December 1st ,when their lists are officially 'closed'. This is the same every year and it seems to work well and helps to avoid any anxiety associated with 'choosing' and being 'rushed' into decisions. (They also know that once December 1st arrives, there are no more 'incidental' treats as all my 'spare' money goes towards making Christmas awesome).
- This year, once Dominik had decided what he wanted, I went and bought it for him straight away and gave it to him. He knows he will only have stocking gifts on Christmas Day now (and any presents that people have managed to sneak past him) and this has enabled Dominik to focus on everyday...the here and now...and not on the 'what might or might not be coming' in x number of days. It is the anticipation for him that is the hardest part of present receiving occasions, particularly Christmas, with the Advent Calendar, people constantly asking about his list, people coming to drop off presents and being offended when he wants to open them in the instant he sees them, and of course, people reminding him to be 'good'. So, as much as I get lots of 'tutting' and 'sighing' from friends and relations, I don't care. He is not spoilt. He is happy and calm. This makes for a happier and calmer time for us all but especially for him. Phew.
I have implemented all of what I have listed above and, touch wood, so far, this has been by far and away the most amazing build up to Christmas there has ever been in my house.
It is a magical time of year so here's hoping it is for all of your families too.