For most normal children, Christmas is a beautiful festive time filled with merriment. It means being surrounded by friends and family members, most of whom we only get to see once a year. Christmastime signifies lighted trees and other Christmas decors, songs about jingling bells, Santa visiting houses through chimneys and, most of all, lots and lots of gifts. But these very same things that other kids enjoy are potential minefields to children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
What could be simple Christmas joys to others could cause autistic children to break into a meltdown. Under these circumstances, how do families of youngsters with ASD cope up with the holidays and still enjoy it?
We Do Little Changes As Much As Possible
Routine is essential to individuals who have autism. The many changes Christmas or any other holiday bring – like the decorations, the loud music, fireworks and the lights – overwhelm them as they are a huge step away from their norm. A mom of a 13-year-old with classic autism learned that toning down their home’s “Christmas spirit” – putting fewer decors and lights and doing away with things that seem to cause distress – helped her son get more used to the holiday.
“We introduced him to the Christmas tree at the age of four,” she narrated. “He became excited opening his presents at 10 and started appreciating Christmas lights just recently. He never sits with us during Christmas dinners, though. And he’s scared of Santa.”
Christmas Shopping Could Mean Trouble So Be Ready
A mother of two kids with autism has this to say about Christmas shopping: “My four-year-old breaks down at about half an hour into the shopping. Fortunately, he doesn’t throw tantrums, just sit down on wherever he’s at and refuses to budge. When this happens, I have to pick him up, and it’s going home time for us. My teenager is another matter. I have one to two hours tops before she starts fussing. With her, I make a list beforehand and then just grab whatever’s in the list within that limited timeframe.”
Opportunely, some 4,000 stores in the UK took part in the Autism Hour recently, organized by the country’s National Autistic Society. Autism Hour gets participating stores to offer a calmer ambiance to customers with autism to make shopping less distressing – turning down lights, switching off TV screens and the music and orienting the staff and other customers about the move – for one hour.
“My son was calmer and relaxed throughout the hour we spent in the shopping mall,” a mom of a 9-year-old autistic boy voiced out. “I avoid shopping with him as he easily gets distressed but now, Autism Hour could work in the long run.”
Let’s Give Them A Sanctuary
For kids with autism, their rooms are their sanctuary. When Christmas dinners become a lot to handle, allow them to escape to their comfort zones and make your guests understand why your son or daughter couldn’t join you at the table.
“Friends and family members coming in to visit is a meltdown trigger for my son,” says the father of an 11-year-old with classic autism. “He never sits around the table with us during Christmas dinners. Christmases mean more room time alone for him. As much as we want him to join us, we give him his space.”
If you have someone with ASD in the family, the holidays need not be overwhelming. With management and a lot of space for changes, you can still enjoy celebrating it.
Being a good mother to typical kids can be a feat. Each speaks different love languages, requires various levels of attention and every day, each child needs help facing diverse problems, challenges, and issues. Mommy works can be draining at times. If this is the case for moms of kids with typical developments, how much more for those who are taking care of children with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities?
The years between childhood and adulthood are arguably the most turbulent years of a person’s life. No wonder parents find parenting teenagers difficult. What’s more is if you put in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or intellectual disability (ID) in the mix, you get a different set of challenges not many families face.
“I don’t go out much with my girlfriends anymore,” admits a mom of three, one of who is a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. “Because when I do, and we start talking about our kids, I can’t help but think how normal their problems are and question what I ever did to deserve the hardships I have now.”