Christmas is a time of sensory overstimulation, changes in routines, family gatherings, situations that can be pleasant at the same time as stressful. How does this affect children with Asperger syndrome? It is true that for families in which there is a child with Asperger Syndrome the challenge is special, but this time is also full of learning opportunities and enjoyment for all.
Although every boy and girl is different, people with T.E.A. (Autism Spectrum Disorder) usually share some peculiarities:
- They prefer routines to unexpected situations or surprises.
- They tend to understand differently and very literal social situations and communication.
- They can be very sensitive to noise, lights, smells or a certain touch.
- They have very strong focuses of interest.
Taking into account these general characteristics and the knowledge that parents have of their children, we can prepare ourselves for the special moments of these dates.
Although it is probably already a resource that we use during the rest of the year, it is especially advisable at this time to use a visual-written calendar to anticipate how long the holidays are, when to return to school and what to do each day.
Let's not forget that, although these dates mean many changes, we must try to maintain certain routines, those that allow children to 'give structure' to their day. It can be meal times, bedtime, a TV show that you always watch at the same time, etc.
Anticipation is especially important when we go to do new activities. It is not only about putting them on the calendar, but also about explain and make visible to the child who will be in these activities, the place in which it will happen, how others will behave and how he should behave, etc.
To help this anticipation, you can use photographs of family and friends with whom we will meet, videos of these situations (for example, from Christmas past) or social stories (explanatory scripts of the situation).
The number of activities and their duration should be adjusted to what you can enjoy, without resulting in an overload. All children are especially activated during these dates, but For children with Asperger Syndrome it can be especially difficult to regain calm after a busy day.
Some materials can help to minimize this overload: helmets, glasses, stress balls, chew toys, etc. If we observe that the child's stress level is increasing, we can take 'breaks' from the activity and return to it in a while. Choosing times when there is less influx can also be a good preventive option.
For activities at home, such as family gatherings, we can identify a 'quiet' place where the child can go when he needs calm. If we are visiting another house, it is not ruled out to use a children's tent. Previously, we will have to have practiced the use of this material so that it is associated with a feeling of comfort. It can also be a good option to carry objects to those who have a special attachment and that we know give them security.
If we are going to travel, it is convenient to anticipate how long the journey will take, for example with a visual clock or by pointing out the places we are going to pass on a map to visualize the progress of the journey. We can occupy this 'waiting' with travel games or by resorting to technology.
With some frequency, the extended family (uncles, grandparents ...) do not know that the child has Asperger's Syndrome or what this means. It is a good time to clarify with them what their grandson, nephew ... is like and why he has certain behaviors. It is not as important that they know the diagnostic label as that they respect the individuality of the child. For example, hugs and kisses can be very invasive. We can explain that our child is nervous about these affectionate gestures and that others can do such as "high-fiving" or "blowing a kiss."
When we talk about the adjustments that a child with Asperger Syndrome will need in the environment, these may imply a limitation in the activities for the siblings. As during the rest of the year, we must keep special times with them. If the child with Asperger's Syndrome cannot attend an activity but it is important for his brother, surely we can turn to grandparents, uncles, friends ... to do something fun with him while we go with his brother to that activity.
Like everyone else, A child with Asperger Syndrome needs to share, enjoy, be calm at times and activated at others, be stimulated, learn ... Providing this will require adjustments to the environment and special supports, but it will allow us to enjoy Christmas as much as any family.
Meals, Christmas decorations, gifts, camping ... Many changes that we have to get used to the little ones! Here are some helpful tips:
It is common for children with Asperger Syndrome to find it difficult to regulate the amount of food, especially when there are dishes that can be 'biting'. We can tell them to choose the food they want to eat from everything on the table and put it on a single plate, so that there is a limit but we give them the possibility to choose. Of course, it is not a good time to introduce changes in the diet, so if you have any restriction on flavors, textures, colors, etc., it would be important to respect these particularities.
When we go to place the Christmas decorations, we can involve the child. Putting them on and taking them off over several days can help you better tolerate this change. If you have a special predilection for lights and this can get in the way, we can set specific times of the day to turn them on.
As we have mentioned, people with Asperger Syndrome do not usually like surprises, sometimes even if they are apparently positive. For this reason, it is recommended that when they write the letters to the Kings or Santa Claus, we help them to ask for things that they will surely receive. Depending on your ability to tolerate frustration, we may include other things you want, but anticipating which you will receive and which you are not sure you will get.
For children with special difficulties in this regard, we can leave the gifts unwrapped, so that they see what it is clearly. And use a quiet place to open them. A common question of families is whether they should give gifts related to 'obsessions'. We can negotiate with them some of these objects, but also include others that may be fun but are not related to these sources of interest. This is a good opportunity to generate new interests!
Families often have to use a Christmas camp while they are working. There are camps that have places for children with special needs and specialized support professionals. We can contact them before the camp starts to provide them with information on the characteristics of the child or, if this is not possible, make a 'cover letter' with the things that he likes, calms him, stresses him, etc. All the indications regarding anticipation must also be applied in these environments.
During the weeks leading up to the holidays, schools modify their routines, their decoration and carry out unusual activities that tend to be particularly stressful for students with Asperger's Syndrome. It is important that the child is included as much as possible in the dynamics that are carried out but preparing for situations and respecting the level of stress that he can tolerate. The first objective should be that you enjoy these activities, even if you do not participate as long or in as many as the rest of the classmates.
The first day after the holidays must be anticipated and prepared. After two weeks of vacation, going back to school requires an adaptation process. Teachers have to take into account guidelines similar to those on the first day after summer vacation. It may be necessary to enter a little later to avoid the environmental stimulation that will occur at the entrance or for the teacher to go out to look for you.
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