Holidays and High Functioning Autism.

I literally just got my shit together since Christmas. I love Christmas, my husband loves Christmas, our children love Christmas. Well, my husband and I love the “vision” of Christmas. If we could somehow magically have Christmas the way it is in our minds… That would be perfect. You know … Fun Christmas baking with the kids, family gatherings, watching old Christmas movies as a family, crafts, outings, playing in the snow as a family. These are all things I pictured would happen when I had a family, celebrating at Christmas time. Fast forward to this Christmas, and although more successful than last Christmas, it was still extremely stressful and exhausting.

My daughter on the spectrum, loves a schedule. She really thrives when the day is planned, so she knows whats up. She likes knowing what is going on and what is next, and she likes the structure of a school day. Although my daughter loves having time off of school and being home with her family, it is a struggle for her- and she is automatically put in a situation where she feels overwhelmed. This Christmas was a good learning experience for myself, because I was able to see where she was struggling, and offer my guidance to her, although is was not always accepted!

We did have a great Christmas, I learned a lot from last year, so I made some changes this year for the break to go more smoothly. ( I also learned a lot from this Christmas… so next year, I will make more changes to make the break easier for all of us. My daughter had a few meltdowns that I couldn’t tell what caused or contributed to them. They were long, and intense, but there was no violence, and she was able to communicate her difficulties to me.

So here are the things I did this year to try and make the break easier on my daughter:

  1. We didn’t leave our home Christmas Day.
  2. We didn’t buy A LOT of gifts.
  3. We had family come to us.
  4. I didn’t worry about ALL of the traditional Christmas decor
  5. We got our tree a little earlier, and I did not fuss about the set up.
  6. We set limits with spending their gift cards/money they received.
  7. I didn’t push myself to bake ALL the Christmas desserts.
  8. I didn’t worry about the mess on Christmas morning and let my kids enjoy their gifts at their own time.

I knew this year it was very important to stay home on Christmas day. It is too overwhelming for the children, and causes so many issues for my HFA daughter. We bought the children some really great gifts. They received what they asked for, plus much more. However, I didn’t buy to much. Last year there were too many presents and it was actually overwhelming for the kids. Family coming over to us was great because I could go off with my daughter if she needed a break. There is a lot of pressure on my daughter when we are out to act a certain way, and it literally makes her tired, which then causes other issues. This year I did not bring out all of the Christmas decor. Our house was Decorated, the kids loved it, but it was not overwhelming. I find when the house is cluttered with extra stuff, it creates anxiety for my daughter. Because I didn’t put out a lot of decorations, I was okay with getting our tree a bit earlier than usual. There is a tree lot just down the street from us, so we go as a family and pick out the tree together. It’s not too much for the kids because it is close by. I really enjoy it. We let the kids decorate most of the tree together, this gets a bit chaotic because any group activity with the kids requires a lot of redirection (for all), but we just modify the tree decorating. We give a certain amount of ornaments to each child, they can also pick a few that are their personal favorites, and just try to eliminate any issues you think their may be. Then I just leave the tree as is. They are proud of their work, and I don’t need the tree to look as if it came out of a magazine! This year we really set some boundaries with spending Christmas money. My daughter is obsessed with money, so when she has some – she wants to spend it right away. The other children still have money, and my HFA daughter cannot comprehend why they can buy things and she can’t. What I did was, of course let them use their gift cards first, then set a limit and a date for when they can buy something else. This way, no one feels hurt, or left out- and everyone learns about money! I did not do ANY baking this Christmas. I planned on making some cookies with the kids, but we honestly never got around to it. I bought some prepared dough for the cookies we made for Santa, and picked up treats here and there… but I didn’t stress myself out making a ton of treats for family and friends. Baking is a huge task with my daughter, it is hard for her to follow directions, an she gets frustrated easily; it can be stressful. My daughter had a great time opening the packaging and placing cookies on the sheet. And last but not least, I let my kids play. All Christmas morning. They got to explore all of their gifts. I didn’t care that the living room was messy, I didn’t care if people thought I didn’t clean… I let my daughter have a relaxing Christmas at home with her family. There was not one melt down on Christmas. It was our best Christmas yet.

As I mentioned, my daughter likes a schedule. So… knowing this you think I would have made a schedule for over the Christmas break. But I didn’t. I am going to plan as much as I can… even if it is just a simple schedule. A family color time, quiet time, free time, whatever it may look like- even day by day. This will help with the unknown, give her something to look forward to, and keep with the flow of a schedule. Also, I will include her in the planning, so I can include things that she wants to do, stuff we may not usually have time for.

From reading books, and taking courses for parents who have children with behavioral issues, I’ve learned so much about how to modify my parenting style. One of the things that stuck with me, (by Ross Greene) is- Kids do well IF they can. You can’t go into a holiday at home not prepared at all, no plans, and just expect your HFA child to just chill and do things on their own. You need to set your children (all children, but especially children on the spectrum) up for success. IF you help your child be the best they can be, they will! It really is that simple.

So after our Christmas, I was slowly able to get things back in order. My daughter was back in to the swing of things with school, I joined the gym and got our eating back on track. Then- everything went out the widow. My daughter fell at school, and she needed stitches. We were in and out of the hospital for multiple hours at a time, one time getting home at 3:30 AM. I was tired, exhausted, and tasks were starting to pile up. A few days later, the two little ones got the flu. When my other children get sick, my HFA daughter doesn’t understand why I need to give them extra attention. She feels left out, and it is very overwhelming for everyone. After my two littles got better, Me, my husband and our oldest daughter got the flu. Now that everyone is better- I can start a schedule again. My daughter was still thrown off from being sick. She had a few days off school (after a few days off already from her fall) So right now homework is a hard task.

The holidays can be very challenging. For us, it takes a few weeks to get back to normal. The best advice I can give is- be prepared. Learn what is hard for your child, and try to modify things so they can be successful. Don’t do things just because you feel you have to. It is not realistic. You need to do whats best for you and your family. Do what works for you! Make your own traditions, and try not to worry about the small things. What matters is… family! I gave up caring if other people don’t like or understand things we do as a family. If you are worrying about what others will think- here is my opinion. It took me years to learn this, but no matter what you do, there will always be people who don’t understand why you do what you do. Even if they know you have a child on the spectrum. People don’t really get what your life is like with a HF child, so, why bother caring what they think of what you do over the holidays and how you spend your time.

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