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Autism and the Christmas Holidays

Posted Jan 15 2009 7:54pm
I am reposting this from a previous blog for the holidays
12-1-05
I have had many parents of children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders tell me that the Christmas holidays are an especially difficult time for them. Of course, any holiday can be difficult for any child with the changes in routine. But Christmas is usually the most difficult holiday for parents of children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders.
There are no sure-fire techniques to use with your child that will insure a "Martha Stewart Christmas." Families who have children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders have used the following 10 tips to make their Christmas better. And this year I'm adding a new suggestion to the list.
Several years ago Leigh Grannon and I did a study using pictures to increase social interactions in a child with autism. Children with autism are visual learners, and I have suggested to parents that they take pictures of what is going to happen at Christmas--the tree, the gifts, the relatives--and starting several weeks before Christmas show these pictures repeatedly to the child with autism. Tell a little story to the child while he/she is looking at the picture about how to behave, what's going to happen, and what the child can do if it is too much. Include your child in the pictures if possible. A picture of the child going to his room to escape the noise and confusion when he/she gets overloaded seems to help, too.
1. Try to keep your child in his or her usual routine as much as possible.
2. Sensory over stimulation—the lights, the sounds, the smells, the relatives touching your child--are the main culprits during the holidays. Eliminating or minimizing these culprits are your best bet.
3. Some families who have children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders wait until Christmas Eve to put up their tree and decorate.
4. Some families let their children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders do all of the decorating. Children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders may line up or stack decorations rather than decorate in the traditional way, but so what.
5. Rather than try to do the Christmas shopping with children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders in a crowded, noisy mall, many families shop by catalogue or online and let the child point to or circle the toys he/she wants. Websites, such as www.stars4kidz.com, offer a variety of toys for children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Just type "autism toys" in your search engine.
6. Tactile toys are often a better choice for children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Toys that make sounds or involve too much stimulation or are too complex may not cause an aversive reaction in the child. As mentioned above there are web sites that sell toys designed for children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Try ordering some of these toys and then let your child select the ones to play with as they are unwrapped.
7. Talk to relatives before they come over about the best way to behave with children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Have them read my article, “What Horses Tell Us About Autism,” which is available for free on the second page of my website.
8. Generally, kids with autism or other neuropsychological disorders do better in the morning than in the late afternoon or evening when they are tired. It may be better to schedule Christmas events at these times.
9. The parents of children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders need to relax themselves. Often the child with autism picks up on the parents’ stress and that is enough to ruin Christmas.
10. And last but not least, realize that you are probably not going to have a perfect food, perfect decorations, and perfect gifts. Christmas with children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders may not be traditional, but it can still have real meaning. (Sometimes I wonder if children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders know that Christmas has become too commercial.)
I wish you and your child the happiest of holidays.
Gary Brown, Ph.D Psychologist/HSP
(Thanks to the mothers of children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders who helped me with this post.)
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