Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holidays~Sensory Overload For The Autistic Child

I LOVE all things Christmas.  I love the music.  I love the baking.  I love the tree and decorations.  I love the extra's at Church each week.  I love to listen to the Christmas story and have Christmas devotions.  I love the family parties.  I love Christmas!

Our 10 year old who is autistic has a VERY different opinion about the holidays.  He pretty much hates Christmas time.  He hates that the music is on in the house all the time.  He hates the different smells in the house as I am baking (and baking some more!).  He hates the distraction of all the decorations and twinkling lights.  He hates that Church isn't the same predictable service it is any other time of the year.  He hates the noise at the family parties and all the commotion.  He totally hates the disruption of his usually quiet and familiar routine.

So what do we do with these personality differences?

I will admit, this was a hard thing for me to grasp when we first found out about our son's difficulties.  I mean, who could possibly find Christmas annoying?  Several years ago when we were first noticing problems for him, we had a horrible holiday season.  He had constant meltdowns.  He was frustrated and we were too.  But we've learned a few things over the past few years that have helped keep our Christmas sane~both for us and him!

We try to keep things low key.  We have a few tradtions that we enjoy, but we try to keep things as routine for him as possible.  We've found that this is not only a joy for him, but it is for the rest of us as well.  It keeps us focused on the real reason for Christmas instead of all the hustle and bustle.

We try to keep up on his visual aides.  We have many systems in place to help him with his triggors.  If he can see things written out, it helps him to place them into his mind.  For instance, if we have a holiday event, we make sure he knows about it in advance.  We tell him, but also put it in writing so he can also see the change.

We try not to expect to much of him.  This is sometimes difficult for us because we sometimes believe that if we are enjoying something then he would also.  Family parties are very difficult for him.  So we don't expect him to participate for the entire thing.  We DO expect him to be respectful though.  Usually we try to have him eat with the family, but then he can go off by himself.  He has an electronic hand held game or reading a book by himself somewhere that will keep his mind off of all the changes going on, and help him to maintain his emotions.

We (try) to accept things for what they are.  Again, this is difficult for me sometimes.  Every year I picture a perfect (what is that anyway?) Christmas season~I pretty much have a Hallmark Movie playing in my mind!  Then I'm dissapointed when things don't go like I think they should.  I'm trying (in total honesty~~this is very hard for me) to not have any expectations about how things should go, and just enjoy the moments we have right now. 

We know that even our best efforts to help him may not prevent his breakdowns.  The holiday's are a stressful time for him.  If we try to remember that he doesn't like the breakdowns either, it helps us to extend grace.  This makes for a great Christmas time for all of us!

I write these things not because I am an expert or have it all together (oh, I seriously don't have it all together!  I fail miserably some days.).  I write these things to remind myself of them also.  I know that like myself with all my quirky personality traits, our son is also a perfectly made gift of God.


"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God"
1 Corinthians 10:31


  1. My nephew is autistic too and his parents need to think about the same things you've mentioned here. I hope your words encourage other parents in similar circumstances! Great tips

  2. We have a child with special needs, too (though not autism). It's important to look at what we might perceive as normal from a different perspective, as you explain here!

  3. what an interesting perspective. i love that you are so good to tailor everything to his needs, but still keep traditions.

  4. I can so understand this! My daughter has special needs and requires 100% care. When her routine is disrupted she is VERY unhappy!

  5. It is hard for anyone to stay calm during this season at times! It sounds like y'all are doing wonderful making your own traditions special! :) Thank you for sharing and linking up at Simply Helping Him! Blessings!

  6. This was excellent insight into the mind and heart of autism. I don't have a lot of experience there, but I do have children who just don't handle change or chaos well. Christmas brings both. What a blessing that you temper your own love for the season with an even greater love for your child!!

  7. This is such a helpful post for those with children who are sensitive to over-stimulation. This would make it all a challenge for you but I really like how you shared about it and ideas to help. So many times a young mom can feel all alone not knowing that there are others who face similar things. Thanks for linking up with WholeHearted Home.


I love to hear your comments! In the spirit of encouraging others, please do not leave comments that are offensive or hurtful. Thanks for stopping by!