Christmas can be a fun holiday filled with excitement and expectation, but when you have a family member with Aspergers the surprises might not be the kind you enjoy.
If you have been reading my blog for very long then you know that I am mom to a teenage son diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder) and a daughter who is undiagnosed, but who shows signs of the disorder. Christmas for us can be more filled with stress than fun, but I have found a few strategies to make things run more smoothly.
Maintain Structure- Children with Aspergers and other autism-related conditions are easily overwhelmed by changes to their schedule and environment.
As much as possible, I try to keep a regular routine: meal times at regular intervals, consistent bed time and bed time routine, consistent routine when leaving the house (make a check list: comb hair, put on shoes, grab coat, get in the car, etc.). Keeping a consistent structure enables my children to remain calm in the face of other changes because the basic routine is the same.
Limit Activity- I do my best to carefully choose activities for our family during the Christmas season. Although my son’s social skills have greatly improved, he can still become overwhelmed by too much exposure to new people and places. I try to include quiet family evenings as often as possible (movie or game nights) and make sure that everyone is getting enough rest.
Give Advanced Notice- I not only limit activities, but I give advance notice to my children of the activities we have planned. I have a calendar on the refrigerator with all of our planned activities and I talk about what we will be doing, who will be there and what will probably take place.
I also try to talk to family and friends to remind them of my children’s needs (for example, my son doesn’t like to be touched, so I remind family members not to be offended if he doesn’t want to hug). I let them know that they should talk to me if they see a problem and I suggest that they talk to their children as well if they feel it is appropriate (ex: “If you see Craig start to get frustrated, come and tell Mom immediately.”).
Instruct Explicitly-If we will be in a new situation, I give my children specific instructions about what to say and do. Children with Aspergers need explicit instructions about how to act in social situations because they do not naturally pick up on the clues that most people understand implicitly. When my children were younger we talked about not grabbing toys or touching other children. Now that my son is older, we discuss appropriate and inappropriate conversation topics and I remind him to listen more than he talks.
Practice Coping Strategies- I also talk to my children about being aware of their feelings. We can’t always prevent melt-downs, but we can teach our children to be aware of the signs that they are becoming overwhelmed or frustrated.
I talk with my children about ways to cope with over-load like breathing techniques, going to another room, talking to me or taking a short walk outside. I have also taught them to quietly put their hand on my arm (without interrupting any conversation taking place) when they need help.
Make a Back Up Plan- If my child is having a bad day when we have an event to attend, I usually have an alternative activity planned such as a baby-sitter on stand-by for my daughter or a friend my son can go and visit. Taking an over-stressed child to a party or other social gathering just means bad news for everyone.
Keep a Positive Attitude-Being the parent of a special needs child is difficult and draining at times, but also rewarding. There are plenty of days when I am frustrated by my son’s or daughter’s responses, but there are also lots of days when I am blessed by their personality, skills and talents. I know that when I am feeling particularly stressed or frustrated that I need to take a break so that I can do a better job as a parent. I want to enjoy my child, not spend all my time wishing things were different.
If you’d like to read more about Coping with Aspergers, click here.
©2011 The Peaceful Mom-Please feel free to share this information as long as you link back and give credit to The Peaceful Mom. Please note that this post is not intended as professional advice, but simply the author’s personal opinion. You should seek professional advice if your circumstances require it.