The Christmas season is a time of joy and peace; celebrating with loved ones; when a feeling of hope renews the spirit. At least that’s what it’s meant to be like…however the reality for those of us blessed with a child with Asperger’s Syndrome is often very different!
A sense of anticipation and excitement for the approaching Christmas celebrations, and the wonder and magic this period of waiting brings is something most of us remember fondly from our own childhood. Preparing for Christmas Day from 1st December by putting up the Christmas tree and decorations; sending and receiving Christmas cards amongst friends and family; cooking Christmas puddings and mince pies; shopping for Christmas presents and hanging the Christmas stockings held a sense of wonder. The building of anticipation only added to our enjoyment of the season.
So it’s only natural that we try to recapture the magic of our childhood Christmas’s and recreate that same sense of wonder for our own children, by steadily increasing their anticipation for the 25 days leading up to Christmas.
Unfortunately, anticipation for the Asperger child is often a negative emotion that leads to overload, resulting in meltdown. So the reality for families with Asperger children means a steady increase in negative and inappropriate behaviours that often results in a huge meltdown on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – the very time when we are meant to be enjoying the fruits of our preparation labors , a time of peace and joy.
Instead your child is behaving like a ‘wild thing’ and creating havoc amongst his/her siblings, upsetting Aunt Flora and giving you ‘attitude’ when you try to diplomatically reprimand them – after all, it’s Christmas and you don’t really want to yell and scream!
So, how do you manage to foster some Christmas spirit amongst your family while keeping your Asperger child calm and behaving appropriately?
The first easy-to-implement strategy is to remove the word “Christmas” from your vocabulary. Simply put up the “tree” and “decorations”, cook a “pudding” and “mince pies”, send “cards” to friends and family and just go “shopping”. If appropriate, have a meeting with the rest of the family and ask their assistance in this area too, by minimising their use of the word “Christmas” in front of their sibling with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Secondly, when your Asperger child is present cut back on “chatter” 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 children as we go about our preparations.
Thirdly, don’t place any gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve. In our family, on Christmas Eve, each member privately wraps gifts in the afternoon and then they are placed under the tree all at once. This satisfies 2 concerns – “Out of sight, out of mind” – no visual reminders that Christmas is approaching, and it also minimises the waiting time for your Asperger child – we all know that being patient and the ability to wait aren’t usually strengths in Asperger children!
Minimising the Christmas ‘build-up’ for your Asperger child doesn’t have to mean the end of tradition or a lessening of your family’s enjoyment of the Christmas Season. Rather, by reducing the anticipation and expectation of Christmas to acceptable levels for an Asperger child, your family should experience an increase in the peace, joy and hope of the Christmas Season.
On the day, ensure your child with Asperger's has a chill zone to retreat to if everything becomes too much. If it's your home, then his bedroom will probably be suitable, however, if you're visiting for the day, then find a suitable space and ensure everyone knows that when he's in the chill zone he's not to be disturbed.Merry Christmas!