Christmas on the spectrum
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Christmas on the spectrum: 4 things we forget about

With Christmas a few short weeks away, it’s natural that we all begin to make plans for the holiday. We’re getting out the tree and lights from the attic. We’re turning up the music to fill our homes with the joys of Christmas!

But, as we make plans with the family, we forget that when celebrating Christmas with a child on the spectrum, we need to make accommodations. We need to ensure that their needs are met on this special day.

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Children on the spectrum love the holidays but require patients and understanding to fully enjoy themselves. With that said, there are four things that we need to take into consideration. We often forget about the unfamiliar foods and the changes Christmas day makes to their routines. We expect them to socialize the entire time and the amount of noise and light in the room can be overbearing!

So here are a few ways we can make celebrating Christmas with children on the spectrum enjoyable for everyone!

Unfamiliar foods

Most children on the spectrum have a limited amount of food items that they like to eat. The reason why can include the texture, taste, smell, or even color of the food. Whatever the reason, we need to think of this as the menu is being prepared. Being forced to try new food items can be a lot for a child on the spectrum.

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The whole process can cause meltdowns and unnecessary anxiety, resulting in an overstimulated child. A way around this is to plan your meals ahead of time and incorporate the food items that you know your child loves. The goal of the Christmas meal is to make them feel as if it’s just like a regular meal for them.

Maybe have your child try the new food items before the Christmas meal to see how they react to them. It’s better to play it safe than sorry when trying new food items, especially in an already overstimulating environment.

Changes to their routines

Changing even the smallest detail on any day can have an enormous effect on a child on the spectrum. With that said, think of Christmas day and how we try to plan it, does it ever stick to that plan? Nope, not for my family either!

And depending on how your family celebrates, there are activities planned, visits to other family members, and not to mention that unfamiliar food. So no matter how much we plan, Christmas day for kids on the spectrum will never be structured.

I know that going with the flow, and most will agree, makes a great holiday! But, with all the new activities and extra movement, this can sometimes cause meltdowns in a child on the spectrum. To avoid this, schedule some of the activities that your child enjoys and give them the downtime they need to recuperate.

Trying to make this day as close to their current routine will allow a great day for everyone. It’s always best to try to be understanding of your child’s needs.

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Being expected to socialize the entire time

Almost all children on the spectrum stick to a routine. And that routine often includes being around the same people. So when they are called upon to socialize, it can be uncomfortable for them.

Simply being away from their home or having unfamiliar people in their home can at times be hard for them. Being expected to socialize with people outside of their everyday routine can often cause anxiety.

So what we can do to help keep them is to space out the socializing and try to keep the time short. Allow them alone time in between to recuperate and remember to schedule plenty of time in between all the activities.

With the changes in their environment, the new activities back to back, and socializing with new people, our kids are left feeling drained.

Noise and lights

Christmas would not be the same without the beautiful dancing lights and the joyful music playing loudly in the background. In addition to that, there are the sounds from the tv, the loud chatter, and the opening of the presents.

With all the noise and twinkling lights everywhere, it can be overwhelming for a child on the spectrum. Loud noise and blinking lights can cause headaches in children that have a processing disorder. Being exposed to either for too long can also leave them feeling exhausted. It’s always good to watch how your child is responding to the noise level and lights and take action when needed.

To help reduce the stimulation, you can have headphones and sunglasses handy for them to wear. So if you notice that they are having a hard time, take them to a quiet place for a while to help them calm themselves.

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Conclusion

Celebrating Christmas with a child on the spectrum is not a hard thing to do, but it does require planning. As parents, you must remember to try to make this day as close to your child’s everyday routine as possible.

Be understanding that children on the spectrum may not be willing to try new foods or socialize all the time. That they may need headphones with calming music playing to reduce the noise in the room to help reduce stimulation.

Lastly, remember that Christmas day changes their routine. So if they need alone time, allow them, preferably in a space away from others so, they can gather themselves.

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About the author

Erika is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant working in an elementary school setting. She wanted to create a blog and podcast that shows all sides of school-based learning. Her #1 focus is on providing parents of children with learning disabilities with relevant information in hopes of making each day a little more functional. So if you are interested in more content like this, please sign up below.

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12 Comments

  1. I guess there can be a lot of family pressure to do stuff like a get together for Christmas, although I’ve never really felt a needed to do that myself. But if you do buckle to that pressure, is there a way to prepare someone on the spectrum to deal with that kind of gathering?

    1. There are a few things that you can do to try to prepare them, but it all still depends on the person and how they respond to the situation. Some things that can be done include providing them with a visual schedule so they can see what’s next and know what is expected of them. Another thing that may work is planning the activities/gatherings with only the people that they are familiar with so it’s less pressure on the child. But overall it comes down to having patience with them and giving them the time/space they need to recover after each activity.

  2. Great tips for parents with kids with autism. I have worked with kids on the spectrum for years, and it’s important to stick to routine and structure whenever and as much as possible.

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