How To Survive Christmas With An Aspergers Child: 20 Tips For Parents

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


Louisiana Lady said...

Why remove the word Christmas from your vocabulary? Seems like you miss a teachable moment if you let it come and go without talking about its origin or meaning.

Anonymous said...

The point about anticipation being a negative emotion is a good one; it definitely is for my son. We live in a different state from our families, so tantalizing packages arrive in the mail. We let him choose one gift to open early (usually about a week before Christmas). Also, I don't mind anymore if he snoops and sees some of his presents early; if it helps him, it's fine with me. (I used to get mad.)

Unknown said...

These are great! Thank you! I can see my son - and some meltdowns - in many of these situations. It's good to be prepared. :-)

Anonymous said...

So, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR NEWSLETTER, I look forward to it arriving, and it reminds me of the reality of what I am dealing with.

I am an adult aspie, dealing with an adolescent aspie, and often I am having trouble dealing with my own meltdowns as well as my son's meltdowns. Now that I get your newsletter, I am trying to figure out how to apply what you are suggesting to the both of us! My biggest meltdown triggers are around organization and mail. I just freak out at receiving bills. Any tips?


Mark said...

It's important to seek help if you're starting to avoid certain situations or places because you're afraid of having an anxiety attack. The good news is that anxiety attacks are highly treatable.
1. Relaxation techniques
A person who feels anxious most of the time has trouble relaxing, but knowing how to release muscle tension is an important anxiety treatment.
2. Correct breathing techniques
The physical symptoms of anxiety may be triggered by hyperventilation, which raises oxygen levels and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood.
3. Cognitive therapy
Cognitive therapy focuses on changing patterns of thinking and beliefs that are associated with, and trigger, anxiety.
4. Behavior therapy
A major component of behavior therapy is exposure. Exposure therapy involves deliberately confronting your fears in order to desensitize yourself. Exposure allows you to train yourself to re-define the danger or fear aspect of the situation or trigger.
5. Exercise
The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the 'flight-fight' response, which floods the body with adrenaline and other stress chemicals. Exercise burns up stress chemicals and promotes relaxation.
6. Medication
It is important that medications are seen as a short-term measure, rather than the solution to anxiety disorders. Research studies have shown that psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, are much more effective than drugs in managing anxiety disorders in the long term.
Anxiety and stress over sustained periods of time is shown to lead to exhaustion, the development of allergies and illness.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mark,

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy receiving your newsletter. The information is very helpful to me and the families that I support.

Thank you!

Enjoy the holidays!


Anonymous said...

This was just what we needed to prepare us for the rest of the day! We started some celebrating this morning, but only after his adhd meds had fully kicked in…………………Thanks for the perfect article!

Anonymous said...

I have to thank you so much for your thoughtful information.
I have a 7 y/o with Asbergers.
Christmas was a total disaster, unfortunately.
By 10 am I was involved in a major meltdown. I was crying, ...it was horrible.
All because of his routine being out of order.
I cried for two days, unable to understand why I acted the way I did.
I was totally amazed when I opened your e-mail and it read..."How to cope with an Asbergers child at Christmas time".
...I felt totally lost these past few days.
Your letter helped me understand, why this all came about.
I am a single parent, with a teen also.
this past year has been a learning experience.
I have not seen a meltdown in him in quite sometime. I had no idea Christmas day would bring on a major meltdown.
I am happy for your information, you have no idea how much it helps me.
Coming from a single mother who had never even heard of Asbergers syndrome.
Thank you for your letters.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the information that you give us, but for the life of me I cannot understand the comment that you made about not calling Christmas, Christmas. In this household, Christ is first and that includes year round, not just December 25. Why would it make things less difficult to lie to a child, no matter what he has, about what Christmas actually is? With all due respect, Christ knows more about my grandson than you or I do, and Christ is the one I will ultimately depend on for real help.

Mark said...

Re: Removing Christmas from vocabulary...

You certainly DO want to tell your child the true meaning of Christmas = to celebrate Jesus' birthday.

The reason you may not want to use the term "Christmas" a lot in your conversations just prior to 12/25 is to help reduce the child's "overwhelming anticipation," which can translate into a host of unwanted behavioral patterns.

DO - definitely do - mention "Jesus' birthday and what the real meaning of Christmas truly is. Just keep it about his birthday - not about presents, toys, games, clothes, family coming over for dinner, parties ... (you get the idea).

Ann Marie said...

You know, I'd call the holiday Colonoscopy Day, if it meant that my child could handle it better. It's not the words, it's the faith, it's the family, it's the meaning. All the people hung up on the word CHRIST seem to care only about the word, and not the Word. What about the gift He gave us, our children? Wouldn't He want us to do right by them? And if mentioning a holiday name causes them extreme anxiety, who are we honoring? Christ, or our egos, our sense of righteousness, in a misplaced sense?

Minky said...

i support Ann Marie's statement and I think it's important to realize that for some of us, our children are our religion.

Sandi H. said...

This isn't just for children with Asperger's Syndrome. This can be applied to ALL children. And don't forget to clue in their teachers to some of these things. Schedules at school may change unexpectedly, and that can really affect a child, especially one with AS. Hopefully, your sweet child's educated and informed teacher already knows all of the tricks you know to keep your child happy and safe, but a brief, respectful reminder never hurts. I speak from the perspective of that teacher, and I'm not perfect. I forget sometimes how overwhelming all of this Christmas stuff can be- holiday assemblies, changing routines, parties, junk food, etc. Politely remind me. I'll appreciate it. It only takes a few minutes to explain the changes to your child ahead of time, to prepare for the unexpected and the new. I know to keep things as close to routine as humanly possible. And I know how to have a back-up plan in place should a melt-down happen. But I don't mind your input, or your presence if that is an option you think would help.

Anonymous said...

After reading this, I'm thankful that my Aspie does pretty well at Christmas. I think that for him they key is .. he's an only child. We make sure that we have HIS Christmas at our house before we go anywhere else. That way he can go at his pace first thing in the morning and the rest is gravy. :)

Anonymous said...

I really need this article. Seems like any holiday birthday we have issues, and it takes all the joy out of it for all of us. Makes one want to fore-go all holidays and birthday events. Glad to have this article to help shed some light on things.

Anonymous said...

This article sure made my day. Put into perspective a lot of things. Will definitley help with my patience in the future.

Anonymous said...

This was a huge GOOD thing for me. I have 4 kids and my oldest has Aspergers and ANY transition is like this for him! We just moved again and on top of stress from moving is SUPER STRESS of my 9 year old being TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this article. My grandson has never been officially diagnosed as an Aspie although we all know he is. All of your tips described him to a "T". This is some great advice that I will refer to and pass along to family members for the holidays...Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. Just last night, my husband made a comment about not being able to put presents under the tree like some of our friends do. Our 9 year old was diagnosed 6 months ago. My husband is in denial and refuses to educate himself on aspergers. Our 15 year old son was diagnosed with autism at age 6. I almost wish my daughter wasn't high-functioning because then it would be more obvious, like my son. I think people think aspergers is fake. Makes me mad. Even her teachers don't understand the nature of the disability, calling her immature, smh.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sooo much for this article, I stumbled across it today after many family emails about what our Christmas plans are. Unfortunately my husbands family is ignorant in their understanding of anything, and don't understand our sons behavior. We have only just recently received an ASD diagnosis for our 7 year old, and have not shared it with them. Last year we kept things on our turf and was a much smoother holiday; I am considering emailing them a copy of this article. Are there families who have decided not to share their diagnosis with grandparents because of plain old ignorance. Our son is high functioning- behavior and meltdowns, anxiety in large social gatherings, and change in routine can make for a not so memorable day

Lindsay said...

This is really great stuff to know! The battery thing is no joke!! I stay stocked up constantly now!! :)

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