Christmas presentsChristmas can be an exciting and fun time, but people with autism may be confused or distressed by all the new activity.

With the help of readers of Your Autism Magazine, we have compiled a list of tips that may help you through the festive period.

Preparing

An autistic person can find any kind of change difficult. You could:

  • use a calendar or visual timetable to prepare for Christmas, for specific events, to highlight school days and home days, or the night when Nana is coming to sleep
  • talk about Christmas time and what this means for your family
  • make a booklet about Christmas with pictures of Christmas trees, decorations and Christmas food -  if your family member takes things very literally, they may become anxious if your Christmas does not appear exactly as the pictures
  • liaise with school or college so that the same strategies and visual supports are used as at home, and so that Christmas preparation is started at the same time
  • prepare the person for specific events, eg by showing them a photo of a man dressed as Father Christmas
  • Encourage younger autistic children to share their concerns about Christmas by using worry toy or try to help them by using a relaxation book

Schedules

Many autistic people have a strong need for routine. You could:

  • keep the daily schedule the same as far as possible, including on Christmas Day
  • incorporate a Christmas activity that they enjoy into their daily schedule, eg opening the advent calendar, or switching on the tree lights
  • give them some Christmas-free time on their daily schedule - this could help you to observe anxiety levels and make any adaptations for the rest of the day
  • give them quiet time with a favourite activity in a Christmas-free zone at key moments that may be stressful, such as when other people are opening their presents.

Decorations

Returning home to find a tree with flashing lights could be a bit of a shock. You could:

  • involve the person in changes to the house, eg take them shopping for decorations, let them handle decorations, let them see decorations being hung up, or let them help putting them up
  • consider decorating gradually, eg you could put the Christmas tree in position, decorate it the next day, then put up other decorations even later
  • keep things that might overload them away from communal areas, eg flashing Christmas lights could go in bedrooms rather than the living room.

Presents

Having a large number of presents could be overwhelming. You could:

  • set a limit on the number of presents, eg one from mum and dad and one from grandparents - other family members could perhaps give money
  • introduce presents one by one, instead of all at once
  • put out a present next to a favourite item (eg a new toy next to a favourite toy)
  • leave their presents unwrapped unless they like the sensation of unwrapping.

Travel

Getting support

  • Get support from friends and family, eg a grandparent could watch your child doing a favourite activity while you help your other children to decorate.
  • Get ideas from other families, and share your tips with them, in our Community.

Learn more about:

Last reviewed: 5 October 2015