With the festive season in full swing, we have come up with a few ways to help make it a happy time for all the family, especially those with autism..
A social celebration can be a challenge. It’s a time when the well-understood daily routines that direct our everyday activities may suddenly change. The familiar furnishings of the house seem different and the festive season is a time when families get together to socialise, reflect and recharge relationships with lots of talk and laughter.
It can be a time of sensory overload.
Preparing for Change
For children and adults with autism the day-to-day routines can be important to their independence, efficiency and general sense of well-being. Through routine the purpose of the day is made clear. Knowing that, and with Christmas approaching, our routines may change we can begin to plan.
For the older person with autism, with good language skills, it may simply be a case of marking the calendar to show the anticipated social events, and helping them plan ways to work around any potential difficulties. For the younger and less able individual we might provide a range of visual cues to show as clearly as possible what will be happening. The approach to the festive season could be shown using Boardmaker™ or other pictures indicating the number of sleeps to social situations.
Our home is our haven, the place where we feel safe and secure. This is especially so for most people with autism. The familiarity of our home is comforting. By decorating the house, in the spirit of Christmas, that familiarity fades. While some enjoy the change by taking it all in their stride, for others it can be challenge.
A plan for decorating or changing the house might entail a count-down showing the day when decorating takes place, and importantly when the house is to be restored to normal. If the family member with autism participates in decorating it might even become a fun family activity.
Giving and receiving
Impairment in social understanding is a key feature of autism. A person with autism is certainly not being intentionally rude if they do not respond in the generally accepted way when receiving a gift. Depending on the age and ability of the individual, a social story could be presented to help them understand the perspective of the gift-giver, showing also an appropriate way to receive gifts. Giving and receiving gifts might be practised with role play. For further information on Social Stories™ see: www.carolgraysocialstories.com
While some people with autism love dancing to their favourite music, relishing the busy party atmosphere, for others it can be overwhelming. When we know this is likely to be the case, consider:
- Limiting the duration
- Providing sound protection (e.g. ear muffs or other ear pieces)
- Ensuring their favourite food is available
- Dressing in their favourite clothes
- Providing an escape hatch i.e. a quiet retreat, if that’s where they prefer to spend party time.
Have a safe and happy festive season everyone!