If someone in your family has autism, you’ll know that the break from routine over the holidays can be a really stressful experience. With some help from the National Autistic Society, some families have shared their tips to help make the season run smoothly.
- I have to tell my son what gifts I have bought him as I buy them – that way he knows what he’s getting as he hates surprises, but it still excited for Christmas to get presents. Definitely works better than past Christmases.
2. Colour coded gift wrapping works well for us – that way our son has a better understanding of what he should and shouldn’t be opening, rather than diving in and ripping up every present he sees.
3. It’s as simple as allowing my son jam on toast for dinner rather than a full Christmas roast. He finds the day so overwhelming that sitting down for a big dinner come the evening is far too much to ask.
4. Have a safe zone at the person’s house you go to, so that space is theirs if it gets too overwhelming. Also, say no to any Christmas plans you know will cause distress.
5. As soon as the Christmas tree goes up, my son has to see presents underneath it, so we wrap a few empty boxes and leave them for him to see.
6. If we have a sit-down meal for Christmas, I wrap up presents for them to open in between courses. It keeps them occupied and chilled.
7. Don’t overwhelm them with all the presents in one go.
8. Scheduled movie time – favourite film, hot chocolate and a blanket to reduce anxiety and keep them calm.
9. Not all his presents at once, and not when everyone – particularly the giver – is watching, as he might well respond by sheer disinterest and we try not to offend.
10. We stay at home – family visit us – and we have a play room where he can retreat and watch CBeebies, which he enjoys. I think the most enjoyable part of Christmas for him is all the CBeebies jingles and Christmas stories. And why not?
It's beginning to look a bit like Christmas… Not a lot, because it's only the 2nd of December and also you don't want to introduce too much change at once, and also sensory issues mean that lots of decorations won't work this year for us. But a bit! And what's christmassier than over excited happy children who should really be in bed? #autismchristmas
11. Just the three of us, chilled out and doing what we fancy. He doesn’t want to have an advent calendar or be told it’s Christmas Eve so he doesn’t get stressed.
12. For me, having a big family can be hard. I have a ‘home day’ between each ‘family day’ where we can relax and recover.
13. I keep decorations to a minimum, just a tree, and I often buy rolls of brown paper to wrap gifts so I can guarantee the texture of the paper, then I can decorate the paper or make a fancy label to brighten it u.
14. I make sure I know plans well in advance, including food choices and who will be attending. All these little things make a difference.
15. Our tree doesn’t go up until after the 14th, as that’s my son’s birthday and it confuses him. We have a small amount of noisy toy decorations, lights (which he loves) and he has to put the angel on the tree.
16. We take the ‘snap’ out of crackers to avoid loud bangs!
17. As an autistic person myself, I think it’s really helpful to go Christmas shopping in October or November. Shops get really busy and when you can’t find the thing you’re looking for, it can be really stressful. Sometimes it’s easier to shop online.
18. We have a set bedtime routine Christmas Eve, and no one opens presents until we have all had breakfast. We take it in turn to open presents so excitement is kept to a minimum – and whenever he has had enough, he can remove himself and come back when he’s ready.
19. At Christmas time, I am most grateful for having children with autism. I believe they are the best reminder of the true spirit of Christmas. As a nation, we have become so caught up wit the commercialism of Christmas. Due to my children being easily overwhelmed, our Christmas is stripped back and simple, but still hold the most important values of the holidays.
20. Our 26-year-old (who has no speech) struggled with Christmas from an early age. What works best is following his usual daily routine and the activities that he is comfortable with. No presents, no big meals – structure and consistency. Most years, we have staff support him for a period on Christmas day so we can spend time with other family.
21. I tell my son that Santa has had a word with me, and these are the presents he’s getting, because he knows he doesn’t like surprises.
National Autistic Society
Autism helpline: 0808 800 4104