For children in our classes with autism, Christmas can be a very difficult time of the year. Changes in the timetable, flashing decorations, Mariah Carey on repeat and the general buzz of December can be overwhelming for children who love structure and routine! Here are a few tips to help you survive “the most wonderful time of the year”!
MAKE A CALENDAR: Display a calendar of events which are unusual. I have a month view of December on a noticeboard with the ‘special activity’ written on for each day. The pupils can look ahead as to what we are planning and are prepared for disruption to the normal timetable. Including big events such as dress rehearsals, shows and outings can reduce the anxiety of a change of routine.
USE VISUALS: Use a first – then approach to difficult situations. An example of this might be ‘First Special Assembly, Then Puzzles in Class’. Children who find Christmas activities difficult to cope with will know that a preferred activity is coming next.
BE AWARE OF SENSORY ISSUES: Children with ASD can struggle to process all the sensory elements of Christmas. Try to place your Christmas tree away from this pupil’s desk, or have the lights on static rather than flashing. You could put the decorations up gradually to avoid a shock arrival into a Grotto Classroom! Keep Christmas music a little lower to avoid hearing being overwhelmed.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Prepare your pupil with ASD big events such as a performance or Santa’s arrival. Explain to them exactly what will happen and how long it will last for. You could use a social story or schedule to help. Explain that the child is needed on stage for one song, but after can have some choice or quiet time. Allow the child to try on special costumes well in advance so they can get used to the feel of a heavy or itchy material. Have a quiet space for the child to relax in if it all becomes too much.
Remember that its the most wonderful time of the year, be prepared to be flexible in order to keep your class calm! Have a lovely Christmas period!