Monday, December 23, 2013

Controlling Christmas Chaos - Autism Parenting Style

We've learned some things by now. This isn't a gift giving guide, nor is it a Bible for controlling behaviors, or anything along these lines. Rather, I thought I would share some of my limited wisdom on what has helped control the chaos (or not) during Christmastime.

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Don't expect your child to be as thrilled about Christmas as you were as a kid- at first. It took us roughly five or six years for Morgan to "get" Christmas (i.e. toys!) and four to sit near Santa. We found that driving around, looking at lights, figuring out what Morgan truly loved about the season and then doing that over and over (repetition) helped. We also read one specific book each night during the season. Repetition is our friend here.

I might add, it took us a long time and this zealously decorating mom couldn't figure out why he wanted to hide or break half my Christmas stuff. Turns out, it freaked him out. Oh, and he hated the smell of cinnamon. Glad he likes it now.

I have friends whose kids are older and still not into Santa, the elves, or any of this Christmas hoopla. Adjust your settings accordingly.

Which brings me to another thing, perhaps to file away for next year... decorate slowly, if you have to. You're placing a tree in your home- you have a child who might not think this is acceptable because trees go outdoors. So, when the child undecorates said tree or wants to explore it, climb it, perhaps topple it and drag it outside, don't be surprised. Same goes for any other greenery. Go slow. Involve your kiddo in as much of the planning as he/she wants to be involved in. Don't spring a fully decorated house on him.

Things will end badly. Trust me.

A lot of cute Christmas crafts involve painting hands and feet. Aren't they adorable?! Not according to my son, who once ran screaming to the shower while holding one of the loaded paint brushes when I tried to get him to make a reindeer out of his hand and foot prints with brown and black paint. While I was balancing a baby on my hip. You know what brown and black paint look like, tracked across laminate and then cream colored carpet? Poop and dried blood.

Take into consideration that what you interpret to be cute, your child might equate to sensory Hell. Or creepy.

Ah, Christmas baking... so lovely, so traditional, so... smelly and sticky. Combine sensory with feeding issues and you, once again, have hell. Let your child play in the dough- if possible, but keep a window open or exhaust fan going. Otherwise, you might have the glorious experience or your kid echoing your "Well, shit!" for days after when you catch him throwing away your snickerdoodle cookie dough.

Holiday family gatherings are a level of Dante's Hell he forgot to write about, for both parents and autistic child. Just skip those or tell people to piss off if you have one of "those families." I have zero patience for "well meaning" advice on spankings, how the public education system is babysitting my child, or questions on when my kid is going to outgrow Thomas the Tank Engine. Better yet, having my second cousin twice removed tell me all about this autism cure she read about on the internet involving bleach enemas. However, bonus: big perk for family gatherings- using that sensory break! It works for you, too! But it's called a bathroom break, with a wineglass firmly in hand. Stay as long as you need, as long as your partner or someone you trust with your kid is keeping a watchful eye.

If you do go, make sure to set time limits- for everyone. If you're spending the night there... put the kids to bed and drink heavily, if possible. Don't take selfies and title them "home for the horrordays." Bonus if your family "gets" it all, is terrific, and drinks with you by the fire. Put them in the selfies.

On a serious note, don't forget about your NT kids. We try our hardest to make sure Bay gets to live it up during the holidays, too. This year, he's asked for specific things to do. Morgan wanted to try them because his brother wanted to do them. It was a success. Siblings rock, make sure they know that. Sometimes we have a habit of paying so much extra attention to our special needs child, that our other children can get swallowed up in the background noise. If you can, take only your NT kid shopping with you. Bay loves doing this and loves buying for his brother, even though it's train stuff and he hates every stick of train stuff. However, he's getting time to himself with a parent, usually a small treat, and feels important to be picking out his own purchases. We do small "dates" like this throughout the year, too.

Don't expect your autistic child to be as excited over his "big" gift(s) as you thought he would be. Just because he's not  having one be happy flappy fest, doesn't mean he's not happy. Likely as not, he's overwhelmed and trying to hold his crap together what with the other eight things that are being pushed at him. Don't make this about you or about him not enjoying something. Unless he says he hates it, or sets it on fire, assume he loves it.

I know it negates returning the item, but put the batteries in the whatever before you wrap it and give it to your child. A NT kid gets impatient waiting on batteries, okay? An overstimulated autistic kid waiting on batteries? Yeah... let's just not go down this road. And, if you're me, you're buying trains or something very specific. You're not returning a single effing thing you've tracked down on Amazon and Ebay. Don't kid yourself, darlin.

Most of all, reset any and all expectations of the holidays with your kids you had before you knew about autism. You will still have an amazing holiday experience, I promise. You just have to look at things from different angles, make several adjustments, and perhaps buy the same gift six years (or more) in a row. Christmas is about giving and family. It's also about the kids. Keep that in mind, always.

I hope that some of this helps you. What things have you found that have worked over the years?


  1. It took me a while this year to feel okay with the fact that my son is getting several of the same presents he got last year. But I finally wrapped my brain around it and understood that the reason he needs new ones is because he loved them so damn hard the first time!

  2. awesome - as always!!! I have had a hard time with my own expectations and excitement in the past few years - I'm still working on it!