I love Christmas morning. There really isn’t anything about it that doesn’t appeal to me. I love the smells, music, talking, laughter, tearing paper, picture taking, the lack of routine and the overall chaos that comes when you mix children and Christmas. I wouldn’t change a thing if I was thinking only of myself. However, life isn’t all about me and being willing to make small changes for those with sensory issues, ADHD, Autism or other neuro-atypical realities can mean that everyone enjoys Christmas morning.
What triggers your neuro-atypical child? Common triggers include smells, music, talking, laughter, tearing paper, picture taking, a lack of routine and overall chaos….making Christmas the perfect storm for a meltdown. So how can you help your entire family have a happy holiday?
Stick to your normal schedule as much as is reasonable. Go to bed on time and let your child sleep until he or she wakes naturally. This might mean planning in a few gifts or activities for siblings who wake up at the crack of dawn full of excitement.
Eat regularly. Keep meal times constant and avoid pumping your child full of sugar. If he eats differently, he’s going to feel differently and he might not be OK with that.
Do a little extra gift preparation. Open the boxes, cut the toys free of the unbelievable amount of plastic and Kevlar used to make those packages impossible to open. You can either slip the toy back into the box, slip it into a gift bag, or just leave it waiting under the tree. Assemble anything that needs assembly ahead of time and put in any required batteries. Sometimes a neuro-atypical child can keep it together through most of the chaos, but add in the frustration of being unable to remove a toy from the package and that’s all it takes to tip from OK to meltdown.
Be aware of the noise level. Turn off or turn down the Christmas music. Provide noise canceling headphones. Avoid purchasing a lot of toys that make noise.
Introduce Christmas smells well in advance. Don’t choose Christmas morning to burn the new cinnamon scented candle. Avoid introducing an unfamiliar sensory experience during the already stressful day.
Turn on the lights and turn off the camera’s flash.
Help control the chaos. Grab up the paper and stick it into the trash as gifts are opened. Put the pets in the other room. Take turns opening gifts. Allow plenty of time to enjoy each gift as it is opened so kids don’t feel rushed and overwhelmed. Limit the number of gifts you give. Let your kids really love the gifts they get and the items they own by not overwhelming them with stuff.
Finally, and as always, lead with love.