Christmas is different with autism

Christine Smart explains how Christmas has to different when your child lives with autism:

The one thing my neurotypical (NT) brain struggled to get round was that my girls’ autism did not allow for seasonal events. I mean what child doesn’t throw themselves into the magical notion of free presents by the ultimate icon of childhood happy memories, Santa Clause? She very expressively hated the whole production and we could guarantee December would feature regular meltdowns and overloads.

Christmas is hard to practise because it comes round once a year and to date we’ve had 12, it took a while to figure out how to adapt this to limit her upset.

School she loves and her behaviour is angelic but, her learning may take a hit. Many lessons skipped for carol practise and Christmas Play rehearsals so her very safe routine time is smashed up for the sake of baby Jesus. It would be difficult for her to have to step in and out of the classroom setting and then switch back to learning mode and again Christmas creeped into that too. Why is she suddenly counting how many sheep are in baby Jesus manger? Why is every picture in art sessions about this very problematic season she cannot stand? By the time she gets home she is over it and we don’t get much out of her which we accept, she needs a longer cool down period.

Decorations are everywhere all the time from November and for a child whose uses her peripheral vison more comfortably in social and public places is now hit with sparkling twinkling oversized baubles and presents and giant Santa. Shops in the centres all play their music louder this time of year because it is Christmas and it not only needs to be attacking our visual senses but our ears too. One of her favourite things to do outside the house, shopping, is now invaded with hustle and bustle, way noisier, way more sparkly and everything is turned up to 11.

At home we do not decorate the ceiling or walls instead we have a tree and things on shelves, maybe some lights and that is it. In changing that she became instantly more comfortable at home.

The one thing she does love about Christmas is the food. She is happy to leave her room and partake in this one tradition happily and enthusiastically.

Gifts she doesn’t dive into, not at all typical she has very little built up excitement as my other children had. Last year we didn’t wrap them, the noise and the mess of the wrapping paper was another annoyance we could remove to prevent the pile on to her senses and make her less likely to overload.

Her present opening literally went like this .. “Oh wow thank you”, puts gift down … “oh wow thank you”, puts gift down … “oh wow” … you get the point. I felt like she was doing this for the benefit of the NT’s in the room to satisfy our very basic view of what Christmas is which is happy surprised children. Once her bag was emptied and off she went leaving the gifts where she’d put them and went on about her day as usual. It will take her a couple of days to show interest again which I have learned is how we have a meltdown free Christmas.

You see many a social media post stating Christmas is shoved down our throat way too early and it’s all about the business side so understanding her resistance and trouble accepting this overindulgent celebration is easier when you break it down. Removing Christmas altogether isn’t practical, but recognising how it can be difficult and adapting especially in the home is the key to a meltdown free day and not just for the sake of the other family members , but for your autistic child because they should have a great day too.

If you struggle with this time of year and wonder can a Christmas be stress free, we thought the same but actually, you can.


This post was written by Christine Smart

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