Your Christmas Survival Checklist for Children with Social Communication Difficulties
It’s the most wonderful time of the year... isn’t it? For children who find social situations a challenge, the holidays can be a very mixed blessing! All children find themselves getting over-excited and having a few meltdowns at this time of year, so let’s spare a thought for children who find changes to routines challenging, or find social situations tricky. But some simple pre-Christmas preparation can make all the difference: Not the chocolate-filled variety, but the kind you write activities on.
Write down key events, such as family visits or trips out. Also put on ‘down time’ activities (such as an afternoon in watching a film) so these become non-negotiables, and your child knows when they will get some vital time out. Put the calendar somewhere your child can look at whenever they need to, and look at it together regularly so you can talk about upcoming events.
Remember to update it if plans change! Maintaining some normality is reassuring for all children. You know your child best, and the parts of their routine they particularly rely on. It may be that you stick to your bath and bedtime routine, or it may be that your child needs some quiet time with a snack mid-afternoon (similar to their routine after a busy school day). Then work out how you can incorporate these into Christmas plans.
As much as we love (!) our nearest and dearest, haven’t we all felt that sense of relief when we can wave goodbye and have some down time at the end of a visit? You can give your child this crucial down time during visits, by taking along some calming, individual activities (such as colouring, listening to an audiobook, or playing with a fiddle toy), and allowing your child to go off to another room on their own to ‘chill’ (or under the table!) A quiet word in the host’s ear so your child is not disturbed during these times may also be helpful.
For children who find social situations daunting, arriving early and being one of the first there, with other family members or friends arriving gradually, can be easier than walking in to a group of children or adults. You know your child desperately wants a toy that is going to hype him/her up completely, and probably cause squabbles between siblings when everyone wants a turn. What do you do? Consider when you child gets this toy (i.e. at a time when they are actually able to play with it, and not when they are with a group of other children). Know in advance any ground rules you are going to set that go with the toy, such as if there is a time limit for playing (such as with video games) or rules about sharing. This could be written down as a message from Santa. As well as the highly motivating, stimulating toy, include calming and one-player toys that can be enjoyed straight after opening – depending on your child this could be a colouring book featuring your child’s favourite cartoon character, a construction toy or some play putty.
- Get a child-friendly calendar
- Consider your daily routine
- Prepare quiet activities before family visits
- Plan escape places before family visits
- Set your watch ten minutes fast - or do whatever it takes - to arrive early
- Amend Santa’s wish list
Times spent with other children, be them friends, siblings or other relatives, will no doubt lead to bickering and fall-outs at some point over the school holidays. Being realistic about this means you can be pre-prepared! If your child doesn’t normally like shopping because of the crowds and the noise, they are even more likely to dislike shopping at Christmas time! Even if you both know Santa is in the grotto on the other side of the department store.
If your child doesn’t like talking to new people, they are unlikely to give it a go on Christmas Day when they meet a relative they haven’t seen in years. Be kind to yourself and your child, and make sure you have realistic expectations of what your family will be able to get out of an activity before you start. This is your holiday! It can be however you want, and doesn’t need to include raucous Christmas parties if you don’t want it to. It could instead mean a day dressed up as Spider man or an hour looking at pictures of tanks together. Christmas is about family, so give yourself permission to spend it in a way that suits you and your family, rather than a way that suits your Instagram feed!
- Arm yourself against arguments
- Check your own expectations
- Ask your child – and yourself - what they really want to do
Wishing you an enjoyable, relaxing Christmas from everyone here at Iris Speaks
More information about helping children with social communication difficulties at Christmas can be found here: http://www.autism.org.uk/about/family-life/holidays-trips/christmas.aspx
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist