For many of us Christmas is one of the highlights of our year. It is a shared in such a way that the celebrations around it (street lights, music on the radio, decorated homes) cannot be missed! However for some people Christmas can be anxiety provoking or a time of deep sadness for those who feel the absence of loved ones. For some individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (such as Autism) Christmas can be hugely difficult and challenging for them and their family.
Below are a few tips which we hope will help alleviate some of the challenges around this very special time of the year:
Involve the individual in the decorating process. You can use this to work on conversational skills. Talking about the colours, shapes, smell and sounds of decorations. Use this time generalise some of the skills they may have been learning in a formal school setting.
Be sure to have an area that is ‘Christmas free,’ the individual’s bedroom for instance. Households can become extremely busy environments over the festive period so having a familiar and quite environment that they can go to will help them to cope.
Try to maintain your normal schedule for as long as possible. Think of all the changes going on in their daily routine (e.g. school), rapid changes across environments especially in the home could increase anxiety. Try to make changes gradual and plan for changes by creating a visual schedule for the holidays, be sure to include when regular activities such as school will resume. Ensure that the individual is part of creating the schedule as best as can be. Provide them with options of activities. Visuals can be pictorial such as
Ensure to use a ‘question mark’ or ‘zig-zag’ card to signal a change of plan.
Along with a visual schedule you should also create a Social Story. Social stories are short descriptions of a particular situations or events. Social Stories aim to answer the who, what, where, when, why and how of an event or activity. We particularly like this social story http://projectautism.org/blog/social-story-receiving-gifts-at-christmas.
On the big day try to keep your routine as best as possible, refer to your schedule to show when it’s time to open presents. Rather than physically guiding your loved one to open their presents you may want to have others open their ones first, so it can be modelled and use this as turn taking exercise. Allow them time to open the presents and don’t worry about hurrying them to open another gift. The gifts don’t all have to be open at once. You can even schedule different gift opening times if this will keep motivation high.
Most of all if you have behavioural interventions in place and keep on top of this to prevent from behavioural challenges. The idea of reinforcement based strategies might seem like one extra thing amongst it all but behavioural intervention will be key for you to have a settled Christmas.