Ashi's Gift Journal

by Author Annie Eskeldson

Holiday Tips for Families of Autists




If all you want for Christmas is to make it through without meltdowns, this is the blog for you.

If you have an autist in the family, it's easy for feelings to get hurt during the Holidays. Like many Gandmas and Aunts, you may have spent weeks hunting for the perfect gift and expertly wrapping it.  When the big day arrives, you proudly present your gift and for some reason the 'ewws and ahhs' amid shimmery, adoring eyes never materialize as planned. And instead, faster than a change in the weather, your grandchild bursts into tears at the very sight of the package and your own feelings spiral down like so many snowflakes.


Well, here's some tips that we've learned over the years. Every child is different, so take what you can use and toss the rest.  Also many of  these can be tweeked to fit your situation and please do list your secrets in the comment box below to help us all out!                            



First, for Christmas gifts, ask Mom specifically what the child would like. This will save you time and money.  Don't be surprised if the list is very short and contains just everyday, ordinary things. Stick to the list. 

Autists often have weak hands and fingers so wrap items very loosely or put them in a sack.  Not being able to unwrap a gift can be very discouraging, so set them up for success!

If you really don't know what to get, try shopping at stores that sell age appropriate toys that also provide therapy.  I like http://www.beyondplay.com/.  Have Mom take a look and tell you exactly what the child would enjoy.

If you are the guest at the autist's house, remember that they typically do not like to have new things or people in their home. Don't feel bad,  it has nothing to do with you and they aren't running away from you, they are just so excited cannot handle all that joy. It may come out as tears or screaming and they may disappear into their room for awhile, but they will come out when they can manage their excitement.  Let that be okay.  You can get those welcome hugs and kisses afterward.  No doubt, Mom has, for weeks now, been bringing the child up to speed about who is coming over and what will happen, so your warm welcome will come.

Autists generally turn most events into routines, so if you bring tons of packages, the child will expect it everytime you visit throughout the year and he will be most dissappointed if you break the routine.  The ensuing meltdown will have you thinking the child only wants your packages and not you.  This, of course, is not true at all.  What they want is for their world to be predictable, no surprises.  Autism is very duplicitous like this.  They don't want anything new, but yet if they have become accustomed to you toting lots of gifts, the first time you don't do that, well, you have meltdown. So, to reiterate, start of right and ask Mom what the child would like and stick to the list.  

Some autists have food issues, so unless you know exactly what the child likes, just steer cleer in this area.

If you have prepared a wonderful meal for your guests, don't be surprised when the little autist of the family doesn't want anything you've made and doesn't want to sit at the table.  Keep the peace, let the child go off without it being an ordeal. Just like you can't figure out why she won't sit and enjoy delicious food and family, she can't figure out why you'd want to.  Many autists simply cannot handle the hub-bub surrounding the dining table. It can be noisy with too many people, lighting can be bothersome, and all those food choices may smell strange. Let Mom make a plate for her and let her eat when she's ready.  Again, don't let it become an ordeal.  Don't make the child feel guilty or out of place for not being able to handle all that chaos. 

Have a place where the child can go to be alone.  Most likely, the child will pick out that place all by herself. Make sure the room is safe.  She will come out and visit when she is ready.  She may return to her 'safe spot' many times over during the visit.  It is here that she will decompress and then she will emerge again. Don't worry, she will gradually spend more time with the family, especially when she knows she has a safe place to go whenever she needs to be alone.  You will discover this to be her routine over the years when she visits.  If you are the visitor and wonder why your little friend isn't around, she's probably in her room being alone, playing and enjoying toys that her senses can handle.  Don't worry, she'll invite you in when she's ready.


If you are having an autist as a guest, make sure that your home is safe.  Keep windows locked and doors too.  Usually there are enough eyes to make sure all children are safe, but autists especially love exploring inside and venturing outside, even when they are not supposed to.  Many autists have no sense of danger,  have no fear, and they don't ask for permission first.  Their sense of curiousity and exploration overrides any safety rules.  If they are in a new environment just multiply all that by 100 - do be prepared,  safety wise.


Your Holiday traditions and festivities may not matter to the autist.  It can be painful when all you want to do is share those special things with him as a loving gesture. Try sharing using unstructured activities so that if he decides to participate, he won't 'do it wrong' according to his cousins or siblings. This will bring a high level of comfort and confidence to the autist as well as demonstrate your acceptance to his kin.


 
What you can do that would be really special to an autist is this:  instead of trying to push your traditional Christmas onto him, meet him where he is mentally and have Christmas the way he'd like it.  Maybe it is quieter and simpler,  maybe there are less gifts, and maybe your goodies don't get the appreciation they deserve; but you might just be invited to enter the world of an autist at peace. It's a very special place full of imagination and brilliance. I've been there. I know Jesus would like it and it is all about Him after all.
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Merry Christmas

Please add your secrets in the comment box to help us all!

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