Christmas can be a difficult time for people with autism and additional needs. The noises, lights, routine changes and so many other things can be overwhelming. When J was younger we hadn’t really thought much about these things. We hadn’t been prepared for it. I think we just assumed he would be excited and would love it in the way my nephews and niece had. Maybe this visit to Santa should have forewarned us. Not much has changed in this respect, he still gets upset at the thought of meeting Santa.
The year we found out things would be different for him was when he was 3. We set all of his presents out, nicely wrapped, and in the morning we went downstairs for him to open them. It was hard to tell if he was excited. We just assumed he didn’t really know what Christmas was yet and, as he was our eldest, he would pick it up as time went on. He happily opened the first present and wanted to play with what was inside. After doing this another couple of times he just wanted to sit down and play with what he had and didn’t want to open anything else. He became a bit overwhelmed with every individual item needing to be unwrapped and eventually had what we now know as a meltdown. He started flapping his fingers and shaking his head, whining and whimpering and becoming very distressed.
We abandoned the present opening and revisited it a bit later when more of the same happened. Eventually I opened the rest of his gifts and left them out for him to look at and play with as he chose to. It wasn’t an overly happy experience for J. The positive thing was that we had learned some things not to do in future. From then on I did less wrapping, bought slightly less and made sure he opened what he had a bit at a time if necessary.
As time has gone on he has gotten a little more aware of what Christmas is, loves the tree and decorations, knows about Santa and anticipates getting presents. He helps put out the treats for Santa and get things ready. This year he even found it hard to settle and was jumping up and down laughing and saying Santa.
As he grows and develops hopefully his understanding will improve and things will get a little less stressful for him. In our house this year we had three quite different present bundles. W’s bundle was mainly bigger items which were built and laid out with a few things for her to open. B’s were all individually wrapped and mostly smaller items, Star Wars figures and stationery etc included as he enjoys drawing and writing. J’s was a mix and I had removed most packaging in advance. Many items were put into gift bags to enable him to open them easily and see what was inside. The things inside his stocking weren’t wrapped and just a few of his bigger boxed items were wrapped.
I don’t know if this was what made the difference but he really enjoyed opening his gifts and was happy to put them down to open others, before returning later to play with them. He seemed to enjoy it more this year, he was more aware of what was going on and less frenetic or upset. The excitement was clear and he was happily jumping up and down, eagerly ready to open or look at each gift in turn.
It took a little more preparation and thought to make sure each of the children’s Santa present piles were suited to their stage and needs. It was definitely worth it though and helped it to be a little less stressful all round. Does anyone else have a specific way presents need to be set out or wrapped up?
The thing I had most difficulty with this year was trying to get all three of them in one photograph!
Merry Christmas everyone 🎄