For many families, Christmas is a time of celebration, fun and the chance to be together as a family. If you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum or with an intellectual disability, Christmas can be a very different experience.
What is meant to be a time of fun, warmth and giving can quickly turn into a Christmas nightmare fraught with challenges and difficulties for all concerned. In this blog, we have put together some tips and advice that may help reduce some of the stress felt by parents at this time of year.
Being as prepared as possible and thinking ahead can help alleviate many potential pitfalls at Christmas, particularly on Christmas Day, which is always busier than any normal day. Pre-preparing food and par cooking some of the bigger food items will enable you to spend more time with your children whose expectations and excitement are likely to be high like any other child.
Wrapping paper and packaging can also be difficult for some children to open, so it may help to remove any difficult packaging and place presents in bags, boxes or containers to making opening easier. It may also help to reduce anxiety and create a sense of familiarity for children by having some of your child's favourite toys on hand. If the toys you have purchased require batteries it may also help if they are pre-loaded to make sure everything works and reduce waiting time, which can cause upset.
On the Day
It's often a good idea to try and create an environment that is calming and free from too much stimuli. If at all possible, try to not have too many things happening at the same time and limit the amount of flashing lights. If your child is sensitive to certain smells, it may also be a good idea to think about what you are planning to eat on the day.
If you’re having a large family gathering, the noise levels are likely to increase as the festive occasion goes on. Earplugs or headphones can be a good way of countering this if your child is sensitive to noise. If your child has lot's of presents it may also help to limit what you give on the day, this will help reduce stimulation and sensory overload.
It could be helpful to create a ‘calm space’ that you can take your child to if they become over-stimulated or anxious. Allow them to take 20-minutes or so out from what can be a very busy and emotional day, or however long they need. This is particularly important if you’re spending Christmas or Boxing Day at a relative’s house. It's also helpful to talk to your relatives about your child's specific needs and asking for their support. This will go some way to making the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone.
Equally, make sure you stay calm yourself, as children are likely to pick up on your stress, and this may have a knock-on effect. Self-care is essential at all times but particularly at Christmas.
We hope these tips prove helpful and you and your family have an enjoyable Christmas.