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These tips have all been sent in by other parents, carers and professionals in the learning disability community. We hope they will give you plenty of ideas to try, but please remember Netbuddy is not responsible for the information provided or any of the activities suggested.
Putting food onto large plates/ bowls and letting the family help themselves has saved my sanity re christmas dinner. My adult son with ASD is very fussy about different foods being on the same plate. This way, he chooses what he wants to eat and actually will try one thing at a time.
Netbuddy Xmas Gift Guide
We have sensory items on our christmas tree. Different textures, smells and things that make sounds - so the little girl I look after with a visual impairment can enjoy it too!
Have a whip round
Friends & family never seem to know what to get George for Christmas, & what they do give him nearly always ends up getting broken or ignored. So this year I've suggested they contribute towards buying him a tablet, which he will definitely use. I think they're quite relieved not to have the stress of choosing something for him.
RNIB Santa letter
The RNIB have a write to Santa service. He replies in Braille, large print or audio CD
Foil is an excellent wrapping paper. It is very sensory and makes for an easy to open present!
Prepare a calm space
I used to worry about Dan's behaviour when spending time at family member's homes over the festive season. Basically, I'd take him and hope for the best! However, I've found that planning and preparation in advance hugely helps. I work with my family and we make sure we have a calm room or a space he can go to for when it all gets too much. I put his favourite blanket in there. Having some time alone, or just with me keeps meltdowns to a minimum
Don't forget the giving
Help and encourage the person you are caring for to give gifts. This provides an excellent opportunity to work on social skills like thinking of other people, other people's needs and interests and being kind and helpful. I support my daughter to make gifts for her family and friends. She also looks forward to actually giving out the presents as well!
Ready to go
When we give our daughter a gift, we make sure all packaging is removed, batteries are in, & it is set up ready to use as soon as she's unwrapped it. For someone with limited attention and suspicion of new things it can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
Plan aheadI always give my two ASD children 'jobs' to do at Christmas – eg: take coats, offer nibbles round etc. Giving them something to do reduces their stress of having people in the house. I also make sure they can escape if it all gets too much, either to their rooms or a designated quiet space. I also give them an itinerary so they understand, for eg, that people stand around and chat a lot, and that is part of the occasion.
Ribbon for wrapping paper
Instead of using wrapping paper, I wrapped a present in a piece of material and tied with a ribbon. Once the ribbon was in person's hand she pulled and hey presto, she had unwrapped it herself!
Good Christmas gifts on line
This site has some great Christmas presents. It's recommended by the National Autistic Society, Mencap & other charities. www.cheapdisabilityaids.co.uk
A few of my favourite things
Christmas Presents. Wrap up some old favourite toys as Christmas presents if your child is not keen on opening presents as they have new and unfamiliar things in them. You can secretly hide some favourite things in the weeks leading up to Christmas -sometimes unwrapping something familiar is very reassuring!
TrabasackA great xmas gift idea is a Trabasack. It's a lightweight bag that is also a lap tray that you can work, eat or play on. It has a firm tray surface on one side, a space in between to put your things and a bean bag in a pocket so that it sits comfortably and level on your lap. Useful for anyone, but ideal for wheelchair users.
Week to view calendarPrint off a week to view calendar page - from your PC or the internet and add a picture of your planned activities during the Christmas hols (divide into morning, lunch afternoon etc) and this will help put your child at ease about the plans for the week!
If your child can't cope with decorations being on the outside of the house, try telling them that the house is getting dressed up for Christmas!
SmellsAdd cinnamon to your child's playdough to gradually introduce the new smells. One thing that people with Autism complain about the most during Christmas is the many different perfume smells coming from visiting adults – ask your family and friends to hold off on the perfume!
Make 'special time'
It's easy to get overloaded with Christmas preparations at this time of year, so plan daily activities to make some special time for your kids – ie 5 to 10 mins of undivided attention. Let your child take the lead, tune into their world and see it through their eyes. www.maketime2play.co.uk
Jack and Tom are friends
Christmas can be a time when you may have to explain to other children why your son/daughter is a little different, and it's not always easy. The Autism for us website has a brochure – 'Jack and Tom are friends – can you spot the difference?' you can use for ideas. www.autismfor-us.org
Don't put up the decorations when your child is sleeping – do it in front of him/her and if possible, get him/her involved. You can also gradually introduce changes into the environment, first introducing the Christmas lights for sensory play.
Create a 'safe place'
Leave one room in the house, possibly your ASD child's room, free from anything to do with Christmas, so he/she can come back to the room as a 'safe place' if he/she needs to.
I always bake lots of ginger bread biscuits and give one to decorate every day. Get a recipe on the Autismfor-us website . You can also request a picture recipe to support every step with photo prompts. Email email@example.com
Stay calm!Stay calm! If your child reacts badly to stress, staying relaxed and low-key over the Christmas period is one of the best things you can do to keep your child's behavior in line. Save the tantrum (yours) for when you get home.
Talk to family members
Talk to family members ahead of time. Discuss your child's specific needs, and gently but firmly tell them what your plans are. Be sure to let them know that this will make the whole experience better for everyone. Ask for their support.
Don't rise to criticism
Don't rise to criticism or "advice" from family members. Remember, it bothers you more than it does your child. You know best what your child needs, and providing it is your responsibility. Try and stay focused on your child.
Fill a backpack
Fill a backpack with things your child finds comforting or enjoys playing with - toy cars, a stuffed animal, a CD and CD player, or a few books. If your child gets overstimulated, find a quiet corner or a back room and pull out the backpack.
Cerebra have a lending library where you can borrow sensory toys and equipment including bubble tubes. Borrow some new activities over the Christmas period.
Sparkly Christmas paper
For visually impaired children or those with a sensory impairment, buy lots of sparkly Christmas wrapping paper as it's very good for catching and holding their visual attention. Gold, in particular, or anything with a rainbow/prism effect seems to work well to stimulate those with visual impairment.
Personalised Father Xmas letter
Send your children or grandchildren a personalised letter from Father Christmas and support Cerebra at the same time. For £4.99 the child of your choice will receive a personalised letter, a Christmas card, a Christmas story and a bookmark. To find out more
Christmas presents – stuck for ideas? There’s always the Wild Things Compilations and the Heavy Load DVD (available in NTSC and PAL versions) and badges. www.heavyload.org
Great Christmas gift idea
Monster High do a handbag that plays music. Lovely auditory element. I think it would make a great Christmas gift! Find it here
More gift ideas
Spread out the presents
Don't feel that all the presents have to be opened on Christmas morning in the traditional way. Our son would get so overwhelmed he couldn't cope so it was much easier to allow him a few gifts at a time throughout Christmas Day and Boxing Day. He opened them all in the end without any tantrums and was much calmer and happier, meaning we all had a far more enjoyable time!
Design your own wrapping paper
Get your family to design wrapping paper. Simply buy lots of plain brown paper and allow them to have fun with paints in seasonal colours.
Christmas wish list
If family and friends are struggling for ideas for Christmas presents, email them a link to a website of sensory toys or ask for cash which you can put together to buy that (probably) expensive toy!
Our daughter loves looking at pictures and we have found it a great way of explaining different events to her. We have a Christmas book we've made with pictures of her and the family doing things at Chirstmas. We've included pictures of the tree, her in the school play, us all putting decorations up, etc. It helps her not to get overwhelmed with what's going on.
I run a group for kids who have an autism spectrum disorder. Instead of having a christmas party every year, we arrange an experience for them. They enjoy this much better. They and us as their parents are not put under any pressure to conform to the extra pressure and demands that a christmas party puts on them.
Use calendars or planners
If your child has autism, it's best to plan and prepare them well in advance for Christmas, so there aren't too many surprises. This can be done with calenders or planners. These can also help to minimise their response to the huge changes to their routine and the excitement of others around them.
Opening cards & presents
My son has trouble with fine motor skills so I 'doctor' his cards and presents to allow him to open them easily. Makes for a much happier time for all and gives him a sense of satisfaction that he can complete tasks!
We prepare for Christmas early, with books about santa. For us, it is about preparing our son for a change coming up, as there will be visits to the school from Santa and Xmas parties etc, which all make my son anxious. My advice is start early!
Play with wrapping paper
Give wrapping paper to play with ahead of Christmas, cut, tear... so your child gets comfortable with the noise and look of it. Choose less 'visually noisy' paper and avoid patterns that can produce sensory difficulties to your child.
Prepare for a crowded house
I've started to prepare my son for a crowded house at Christmas by inviting his friends around for Sunday Club and making a party for the family to have dinner or a disco. Announce visitors on your child's visual timetable. Allow quiet time if he/she needs to step out.
What to buy for someone with ASD
People with Autism are not always motivated by toys and may not always know how to use them. I have made a list of ideas that you can look up on our website: www.autismfor-us.org
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