Tips for an Autism Friendly Christmas

In our house Christmas is a huge event and lasts throughout December. We have found ways to manage the festive season so we can all enjoy it and nobody misses out. This is an ongoing process and I am still finding ways to adapt things that have proved to be an issue in the past.

Familiar traditions are easier to manage than new ones as although not part of every day routine they have come to understand and expect them. We make sure in the build up we talk about our traditions and get them used to the idea of the changes approaching.

We make sure we update our visual timetables so they have visual warnings of what we are doing so any changes don’t come as a surprise. Changes to school routines seem to have the biggest impact and are the hardest to manage, I make a list of all the things school have told us about and make sure the list is displayed and calendars filled in with dates for Christmas plays, visits, Christmas dinner at school etc. I just have to hope the school don’t throw in any last minute changes that we haven’t prepared for.

When planning Christmas days out to see Father Christmas or a Christmas market I research the venue in advance so I can plan the day out before we go. I print out as many photographs as I can so I can show them to the children to prepare them so they know what to expect. I also look at where the car park or exit is in case we have to leave quickly or take a break because it gets too much.

We have a lot of Christmas decorations, we put them up early and add to the gradually so it is not too overwhelming. We start with the old familiar decoraions in the main living room and lights on the front of the house. We add to the other rooms on different days before introducing any new decorations.

I used to find any Christmas activities at home would be overwhelming even if they wanted to take part in them. We have had to adapt traditions over the years and break things down into little steps. Sometimes things that they would usually cope with become more difficult due to the amount of pressure the change of routine brings. Baking for some reason was always a huge trigger. We don’t try and bake with all three children at once we let each take a turn on their own and each child adds one part of the ingredients. We make sure there is a big gap between baking and any icing and decorating. This way they can take part in the activities as they are in small enough doses.

We take a similar approach on Christmas eve, we used to cram all the little traditions into the hour before bed and it was all too much. We now spread all the little traditions out over the day so the reindeer food and Santa signs go out in the morning, the stockings get hung before we eat dinner so the final step of leaving the mince pie out is the only thing left to do immediately before bed.

Sensory toys are a vital tool in our house all year round. I ensure there are always plenty on hand over the festive period and we include plenty of time for sensory time to calm everyone from the busy festive activities. Faye in particular loves themes and things matching themes so I buy lots of Christmas themed sensory toys for her. Luckily the last few years it has been easier to find some lovely items from Christmas chew necklaces, Christmas squishies and rubber tactile toys to the gorgeous Squishmallow pillows. Fake snow makes a lovely sensory activity either the ready made powder kind or making your own with bicarbonate of soda and shaving foam.

We will continue to adjust things as we go along as we don’t always get it right. My task this year is to adapt the party games at our North Pole tea party as they are always a flash point.

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