Christmas is full of cheer and gatherings. But it can also be a difficult time.
We desperately want to come together and have quality connections with each other founded in love and companionship. Last year Aussies spent more than 25 billion dollars on Christmas– that’s a whole lot of trying to connect right? You don’t go into a spending frenzy based on the celebration of the birth of a Messiah. You whip out your wallet or become enthralled with family time because society tells us we need to and we get caught up in either the joy or the fear of the connection. Some beautiful souls become so depleted because they don’t have a family, or a home this Christmas, the thing is- it just isn’t easy for everyone. But it can be better.
If you are visiting your family or friends home, the anxiety may have even started. How are we going to cope?
Will we even go? So as Grandparents and family members and friends- how can we make Christmas gatherings more enjoyable, supportive and inclusive so that everyone feels the love on some level?
If your family celebrates Christmas all kinds of wonderful is about to unwrap. All this food to prepare, maybe you have people coming to visit and gifts to wrap, the house to clean- EEEEEK! Now one of the complicated things that can happen is when you have a child on the spectrum, and you would like to enjoy these festivities too but it’s not a time of year of calm and quiet is it?
Often Autism presents behaviors that have traditionally been viewed as bratty or antisocial, however, once you really observe and watch you will start to understand and recognize that they are behaviors that the body’s coping outlet and a way to regulate or try and get away from what is going on. It is entirely unintentional, the behavior is communication.
Flapping -agitated or excited
Shutting down and not responding to a conversation
Becoming physical by crashing into things or hitting and throwing objects.
All of these behaviors are indicators of what is going on beneath the surface.
Under the surface there is some kind of central nervous system disruption- now this could be positive as in excitement and joy or it could be the signs of a meltdown or needing to self-regulate. Why? Because the sensory input is HIGH! But here’s the one thing it is n’t: naughtiness.
So as a Grandparent, Aunty, Uncle or family friend what can you do when you have a Spectrum child visiting? Here are just a few…
1) Find out what the child’s passion is, what do they like?
Is it fans? Perhaps at your Christmas gathering, you can have a fan there for the child to look at, focus on or start a conversation about. If its a train, can you get a small train set or something related to trains? Asking the parent to bring something is excellent, but let me tell you if you act, and the child turns up and sees that you too like trains or fans it is going to change the whole energy of the interactions you have.
2) Create a quiet space away from the noise just for them.
Let the parents know that you have created a space for their child if they need to escape the sensory input. Ask them if this is suitable and can you do anything else to help make their little one more comfortable. This will be worth more than gold.
3) Lower your expectation!
There will very well be some behavior spill over so when this happens do not make judgments or try and reprimand the child. This is disastrous and can cause further upset, misunderstanding, and it communicates a powerful message to your loved one that you don’t understand Autism in any way. Now, this could be true, but at the end of the day, you want to have time together that is meaningful and real. And on Planet Spectrum won’t be anything but this. Trying to pretend is going to go as far as flying a kite with a concrete brick. However, there will be moments of insight and joy that will change your life. Our Spectrum children are excellent teachers.
4) When a meltdown happens-
First act is to make sure the child is safe, so it is just you and the child and they go to jump a fence or run out on the road or grab a kettle, then clearly the first thing you do is stop this where it can lead to a physically harmful situation. But if the parents are there, do NOT make eye contact with the child, do not try and touch that child in any way shape or form. Simply ask Mum or Dad if there is anything you can do to help and keep calm.
5) Reduce your expectation on the parents!
Let them know you want them to stay as long as they feel comfortable but its okay for them to do whatever they need to do today. Quality not quantity is critical here. Even if your beloveds only get to stay for 30 minutes and in that 30 minutes this Spectrum child melts down like world war 3, if you have shown the parents you care by doing these things, you have given them the best Christmas gift you could possibly give- support.
Parents if you would like to buy everyone a copy of Planet Spectrum for under the tree Click Here.
If you would like to use our Flight Manual App and download a copy to give to your family before Christmas- Click Here.