Anticipation for the Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster is often a negative emotion that leads to overload resulting in a meltdown. Rather than having a time of “peace” and “joy,” the Aspergers youngster runs the risk of behaving like a demon-possessed maniac, creating havoc amongst his siblings, upsetting Aunt Jane, and giving you an “attitude” when you try to diplomatically reprimand him.
So, how do you manage to foster some Christmas spirit amongst your family while keeping your Aspergers youngster calm and behaving appropriately?
Here are some tips:
1. Be prepared for your Aspie to hand back that present he considers “crap”.
2. Be prepared to watch that DVD you got them over and over again.
3. Consider his dietary needs. Often at this time of year, diets go out the window. But letting your kids fill up on junk is just another disruption in the routine they value so highly. Know their limitations. A few cookies won't hurt anyone, but your youngster won't be in a better temper having skipped the cereal he likes to have EVERY morning in favor of Grandma's famous oven-baked egg casserole, which he hates.
4. Cut back your gift list. Have you ever had to prod your Aspergers youngster to move on to the next gift? Aspergers kids move at their own pace, and it's often a slow one. Some may be overwhelmed by too many things to open. Get them what THEY (not you) will like best, and let them be content with it. Learn to be okay with your kid carrying his Nintendo DS into a corner to try out his new game while others open their gifts.
5. Don’t be shocked if your Aspie asks everyone who gives him a gift how much it cost.
6. Don’t invite anyone over to your house that you’ve gossiped about in the past. All kids have a mind like a sponge, but your Aspie has a mind like a steal trap! Your youngster telling that uncle or mother-in-law, “Mom thinks you’re a drunk” is not conducive to a joyful occasion.
7. Don’t make big plans for Christmas at a hotel, Holiday Park, or at Aunt Mary’s. This may be safe for some families, but your Aspergers youngster will be most comfortable at home where he can escape the mayhem of Christmas day to retreat to his sanctuary of solitude – his bedroom!
8. Don’t place any gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve (out of sight, out of mind). No visual reminders that Christmas is approaching minimizes the waiting time for your Aspergers youngster. And we all know that being patient and the having the ability to wait are not usually strengths in Aspergers kids!
9. Expect an element of ignorance from family members and friends who do not understand Aspergers behavior. If you’re having people over, try to choose those who know, understand, and like your Aspergers youngster.
10. Let him wear himself out. If your Aspie has a poor sleep pattern at night, you will be grateful when he does sleep!
11. Lower your expectations. The brilliant gains your Aspergers youngster has gained this year may well be lost in the holiday chaos. But remember it is HIS holiday as well as yours, and it may not resemble your own cherished childhood memories. That's okay. A few deep breaths will go a long way. Nourish your own flexibility, and don't expect too much flexibility from your youngster.
12. Make sure all kids have the SAME number of gifts. If they have a present that was more expensive, be sure to make up the numbers with little things. There’s nothing worse than a Christmas morning meltdown.
13. Make sure you have plenty of new batteries on hand. When you tell a youngster with Aspergers you forgot to buy the batteries, you can expect a meltdown.
14. Make sure your day is well planned out. Just like any other day, your youngster will want order and routine to their day. He will want to know what time dinner is and who’s visiting and when.
15. Prepare ahead of time. Schedules will be off. Mealtimes will be different. Special events get in the way of the treasured routines that help make Aspergers kids feel safe and secure. Where possible, preserve the routine. When that's not possible, sit down with your youngster ahead of time and explain what will be different. Use a picture schedule or a written list if this works for him. Post a calendar. And give plenty of advance notice if plans change.
16. Remove the word “Christmas” from your vocabulary. Simply put up the tree and decorations, cook the pudding and mince pies, send cards to friends and family, and just go shopping. Also, have a meeting with the rest of the family and ask their assistance in this area too.
17. Scale back the parties. For Aspies, social get-togethers can be minefields. Remembering social graces, how to look and act "normal," striving to fit in-all these are stressful to an Aspergers youngster. And if you're wincing, waiting for Uncle Waldo to frown at something your youngster says, your kid will feel this too. As much as possible, confine gatherings to arenas where the youngster feels comfortable and accepted.
18. Stay out of the stores. The Aspergers youngster craves routine and predictability. The Christmas crowd at Walmart offers neither. Many Aspergers kids are sensitive to the sensory overload of loud music, arguing customers, even Christmas light displays. Leave them at home if you possibly can.
19. Visit Santa with caution! If you haven’t done so yet, be prepared if your Aspie is a non-believer. Anything could happen! He may call the man with the white beard a FAKE, laugh at his fat belly, or ask him if he has a real job.
20. When your Aspergers youngster is present, cut back on conversation about the BIG day. I know that our inner-child tends to get excited about Christmas too, but we often unthinkingly contribute to the overwhelming anticipation by relating our plans and expectations for the Christmas season to our kids as we go about our preparations.
Hope this helps!
Merry Christmas to all…
My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns