The holiday season can be a mix of emotions for children with autism. Parents and loved ones of those with special needs must be aware that the holiday hustle and bustle can be a sensory overload and overwhelming experience for little ones living with autism. The holiday season is filled with the beautiful allure of twinkling lights, colorfully extravagant decor, crowded events, new and coming guests, and a big man dressed in a red costume shouting with a full beard “Ho, Ho, Ho” on various street corners. That’s an adjustment for everyone to take in, but especially for little ones with autism. My family and I now view the holiday season different in seeing it though my daughter Paris’ eyes.
” This is What I Like”
The kids were very excited about Christmas this year. They wanted to help out more with decorating throughout the house. Paris loved the Christmas ornaments, and she loved helping trim the tree. She was fascinated by the shinny balls. Paris took careful time putting each ornament on the tree. She loved the smooth texture of the ribbons as they moved through her fingers. She looked in amazement and pride of her efforts after our trees were up. I always have a special tree set aside just for the kids to place there art work from home and school to display on the tree. When it was all done she smiled as if saying,“This is what I like.”
A Bit Too Much Mom!
The kids and I learned the hard way that some of the holiday visuals and common traditions were a bit to much for their sister Paris. I could see although she sturggled to express verbally that they made her a bit uncomfortable. Yeah, it was a cute idea to place Christmas lights around their bed. She smiled singing” It’s Christmas time!”, but she paced around the room throughout the night while her sisters were in sleeping solice. Her older siblings enjoyed the various holiday dance recitals and plays. One attendant sat us close to the speakers at a recital although I explained that it would be best for us to relocate to another area. The place was packed, so we had no other choice but to stay. Paris held her little hands over her ears most of the performace. The darkness between each set change added another layer that in her own way of expression she shared,” This is a bit to much Mom.”
Modifications For Holiday Joy
Paris was very excited about Christmas. I’ve learned from her how to be on one accord in making the proper adjustments so that everyone in the family could share in the joy of the holiday. We enjoyed a lovely drive- thru Bethlehem presentation by a local church than heading to a crowded parade. I try to keep our home pretty calm for the holiday from many visitors. I usually limit entertaining visits to immediate family and close friends. I know the holidays can be filled with many house hopping in obligation for visits. I also rearranged the lights in their room setting to go off at a certain time of night. I allow the kids to help in selecting items to decorate our home which made it especially “kid friendly” for all. She joined in dancing to holiday classics with her siblings when the home decorating was finally completed. Our daughter teaches us regardless of the holiday season about the beauty of her world, and we in turn learn how to share in that world together as family.
Here are some helpful tips to consider for the holidays for your child living with autism:
- Allow them to be involved participating in set up and decorating. (Be very considerate of age, understanding and ability)
- Read stories and watch videos together as a family explaining the meaning of Christmas, common traditions, and familiar holiday characters to help with understanding.
- Try to avoid places and settings that are overcrowded, noisy, tight, and super busy. If it’s to much for you, than it probably will be to much for them.
- Try to visit and have visitors over who are familar with your child knowing their personality. It’s very important for you and your child to be around those who are accepting, loving, and welcoming.
- If they don’t like it; don’t force it. Don’t force them to sit on Santa’s lap for a social media picture knowing they are 2 seconds from a meltdown! If you see that they are a physically and emotionally strained be willing to let it go.
- Explore within there comfort zones the holiday season. Be willing to make adjusments and modifications.