Top Tips For An Autism-Friendly Christmas

 

The most wonderful time of year, whether you’re hosting a big family event or spending hours decorating your Christmas tree – the holidays are simply magical. However, for children with autism and related disorders, they can also be a little daunting. This is due to the fact that they’re leaps and bounds away from their usual routine; with unplanned visitors popping by, time off school, and the potential for sensory overload at every possible corner. 

 

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of elements of the festive period that your children are sure to love – from giving and receiving gifts to rewatching their favorite holiday movies. As with any celebrations, from birthdays to thanksgiving, it’s easy to make the event as autism-friendly as possible, it simply requires some careful planning ahead of time.

 

With that in mind, here are some top tips for an autism-friendly Christmas! 

 

Keep routines consistent where possible. 

 

Putting together a clear routine is a great way to help your child thrive in any environment. This is due to the fact that it can provide them with the structure and stability that they require to function as normal. While it may be impossible to stick entirely to your usual routine during the festive period, being as consistent as possible in your day-to-day activities will go a long way towards helping your child feel more comfortable. For example, you could ensure that you: 

Think carefully about your decor.

 

Whether you prefer an artificial tree or the real deal, decorating your home for an autism-friendly Christmas can be a lot of fun – especially as it is an activity that the whole family can get involved in. However, when decorating, you should be particularly mindful of any sensory issues that your children may deal with as you do not want to make them feel uncomfortable in their own home. For example, while fairy lights are a great way to bring some sparkle into your lounge, they aren’t always the most autism-friendly choice of decorating, especially if they blink on and off or change colors frequently. 

 

Keep the Christmas songs on a low volume.

 

Playing (and replaying) your favorite Christmas songs is a great way to get the party started – whether you’re a fan of Mariah Carey or Michael Buble. However, if you want to keep your party as autism-friendly as possible, you should ensure that you keep the noise down to an acceptable volume. This is due to the fact that children with autism and related disorders often react negatively to loud noises. In fact, a recent report from the interactive autism network found that approximately 65% of children with autism are sensitive to noise. It may also be worth purchasing some noise-canceling headphones for your child.

 

Put together an autism-friendly Christmas menu.

 

While each and every child experiences autism in a different way, many children with autism and related disorders are also quite specific regarding the kinds of food and drink they enjoy. Again, this is often linked to the way in which they approach certain senses, such as taste and texture. For example, they may not like the texture of certain foods, or the way they feel in their mouth – and as a result, will refuse to eat them moving forward. While your parents may always have encouraged you to eat everything on your plate, it’s important that you do not force your child to eat something they do not enjoy. Instead, you should ensure you put together dishes and meals that you know they will enjoy. 

 

Listen to how they are feeling.

 

Listening to your child, and encouraging them to find ways to express themself is another great way for the whole family to enjoy the holidays. For example, when you put together your schedule for the holidays, you should discuss it with them in-depth and ask how they feel about certain events or activities. If they express discomfort, you’ll be able to soothe their worries or put alternative plans in place.

Though each and every person who receives an autism diagnosis experiences autism differently, there are often symptoms that overlap with each other and are experienced by a vast number of people. For example, children with autism often deal with some form of sensory regulation.

What is sensory regulation?

Sensory regulation refers to the way in which we respond to certain stimuli. This could include sensitivity to:
– Sight (Specific colors or levels of brightness)
– Touch (Certain textures or materials)
– Taste (The taste, or texture of certain foods)
– Sound (Specific sounds or levels of volumes)
– Temperature (Heat, or the cold)

For example, you may not like how a knitted jumper feels on your skin because it is made of itchy material. Alternatively, you may choose to avoid certain foods due to their texture instead of their actual taste. Our responses to certain stimuli can be broken down into two sections:

Hypersensitive. Generally, a hypersensitive response refers to an overactive response to certain stimuli – wherein the child will make their displeasure clear and actively avoid that object in the future.

Hyposensitive. A hyposensitive response often refers to an under-reaction, or perhaps more succinctly, a lack of reaction to certain stimuli. For example, children with autism sometimes do not respond to body signals in the same way as a neurotypical person, meaning that they may have poor balance.

How can I help my child work through sensory issues?

Thankfully, there are various steps you can take to help your child address (and combat) their sensory issues.

Here are some great examples to get them started.

Dealing with hypersensitivity.

– Find the cause of their discomfort, and try to figure out exactly what makes it uncomfortable for them. For example, they may say that they don’t like certain clothes when in actuality, they dislike the sensation caused by the label on the inside. Alternatively, they may say they don’t like having a bath – but may actually be responding to the temperature of the water. Encourage them to use descriptive language when explaining themselves so that you can work towards a resolution quickly.

– Where possible, avoid situations where you know your child will feel overstimulated. For example, if they are susceptible to loud noises – then you may want to avoid busy areas such as public transport during peak hours. If this is impossible, you could provide your child with headphones that block out the bulk of the noise.

– Use arts and crafts to introduce new textures to your child gradually. For example, you could spend some time putting together a collage using materials you find around the house – encouraging them to use things that they may not have felt entirely comfortable with in the past. This is a great way to slowly and safely expose them to new sensations in an environment where they feel comfortable.

– Find ways to help them remain calm if they feel overstimulated or oversensitive. For example, you should always find a way to help them step away from situations that make them feel uncomfortable – as remaining in the situation is often not the best step to resolving the issue.

Dealing with hyposensitivity.

– If your child deals with hyposensitivity that results in lower body awareness, it may mean that they struggle with balance and coordination. You can help them improve these skills by participating in fitness activities, which often help children and young people become more aware of their bodies and how they move.

– Help them gain a deeper awareness of what is happening around them by focusing on ground techniques. For example, if they appear to be lacking in focus, ask them to list: 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, and 3 things they can hear.

– Surround them with objects that can stimulate their senses. For example, this could include a fidget spinner or cube. Studies show that these tools can be handy when they are trying to concentrate.

At Alee Behavioral, we have years of experience working with children with autism and related disorders, helping them reach their full potential. We offer a range of specialized therapy services, from speech therapy to applied behavioral analysis, that can help them adjust to any issues they may be facing – whether that means sensory regulation or processing change. Get in touch today to find out how we could help your family!

Any questions? Give us a call!

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