The holidays are a scary time for children with autism. The sparkling lights and bright decorations can easily lead to sensory overload and create meltdowns. How can you celebrate the holidays and avoid these triggers?
The Bare Tree
Children who are severely challenged on the autism spectrum may not be able to handle any type of decorations or lights on their Christmas tree. It is important to think from their perspective and understand that decorations can be extremely bright and feel like a giant disco ball. The bare tree is a simple solution. You can use either a live or fake tree and simply leave it alone. Some parents have noticed that their autistic children will start decorating it on their own with paper or other objects around the house. If this happens to you, then let it continue and enjoy the creativity.
The Minimally Decorated Tree
A minimally decorated tree is another option for households who have children with autism. You can purchase simple decorations made out of wood or plastic that are not bright. You should also avoid things with flashing lights and dancing parts if these are triggers for your child. The amount of decorations you can use will vary based on your child’s reaction.
Get the Children Involved
Some children are able to get past their fear of the Christmas tree if they are involved in the decorating process and see it is not a monster trying to destroy them. Let them pick out the ornaments they like and pick their own spots on the tree. They may move slowly or change their minds completely about hanging the object, so it is important to pay attention to them. This past weekend after our Thanksgiving dinner, my grandchildren were asked if they would like to decorate grandma’s Christmas tree. They jumped with joy and did an excellent job. My grandson, although on the autism spectrum, had a delightful time as he helped in decorating. He did take his time and had specific places for the ornaments he chose to put on the tree. I wouldn’t change a thing!
Candles and Fire
There are families who cannot have candles or use their fireplaces during the holidays because the flickering lights can trigger a meltdown in children. Problems with handling fire are another major concern, and parents are afraid their children may not understand the dangers. You might want to consider buying fake wax candles with LED lamps inside that do not flicker. Holiday decorations do not have to be ignored in households with autism. You can find alternative ways to celebrate.
If you know of any other tips that will help calm an autistic child during the holidays, please share them in the comments! It will help us all.