The winter holidays can be tough for allistic family members. Here are five ways to help your loved one have a happier holiday season.
1. Keep their presents a surprise.
Unlike normal people, allistic children and adults do not tolerate predictability well. If you celebrate a gift-giving winter holiday like Hanukkah or Christmas, help them enjoy the process by keeping their gift a surprise. You can add some fun to this game by dropping “hints” like “You’re going to love it” or “Santa Claus picked it out just for you.”
(Remember that, due to deficits in pattern recognition and basic reasoning, allistic children tend to believe in Santa Claus much longer than their peers.)
2. Create a special space just for them.
If you’re hosting a family event, create a separate “noisy space” where allistic family members can go to talk loudly, play with noisemaking toys, or simply listen to the stereo without headphones. A basement or an upstairs bedroom (with the door closed) are great options for separating your noise-craving loved one from the mellow pace that characterizes the holidays.
3. Let them “wind up” now and then.
A “noisy space” is a great opportunity to let your allistic loved one let loose for the holidays! Remember, he or she is probably on vacation (from school or work) at this time, and deserves to relax and let off steam in the way that works best to soothe and coordinate their jangled nervous systems. Activities like sledding or building snowmen can allow them to make some noise and get the social contact they crave while still building a healthy sensory library.
4. Teach them about the comfort of routine….
Many allistic people find, as they grow up, that the routine of the holidays is a nice change of pace from the chaos they tend to spread in their everyday lives. Some even learn to enjoy the holidays for the sheer “newness,” from the seasonal displays in the stores to the latest pop star to record a holiday album. Use family traditions like cooking, preparing gifts, or decorating the house to help them understand the importance of routine.
5. …but be willing to be a little unpredictable.
For many low-functioning allistics, “fun” isn’t fun unless it makes no sense. Holiday baking and crafts are great opportunities to let your allistic loved one have “fun” in a low-stakes environment. If decorating cookies is outside your loved one’s skill set, consider offering crafts like making cards or paper ornaments to let them show their chaotic side.
With just a few small changes, you can make the winter holidays wonderful for everyone in your family – and prevent stressful meltdowns and other behavior issues. Happy Holidays!