Autism and Christmas – 10 tips for teachers
Author Maria Buttuller
Date 16th Dec 2021
While most of us start to get excited at the start of the Christmas period, it’s important to remember that new activity can prove overwhelming for many children on the autistic spectrum.
For these children, the world can suddenly look, sound and even smell very different, with familiar routines overturned to fit in with play rehearsals, visits from Santa, Christmas fairs and end of term parties.
The good news is, that through support and adapting some of the tips below, a child with autism can start to feel reassured during the festive season.
10 Christmas tips for teachers
- Meet with parents to plan together how you can help their child cope with the challenges coming up. Make sure you understand what is important to them at Christmas and ensure that this is communicated to others in school
- Try to keep routines the same as much as possible. Where this is not possible, discuss any changes with the individual in advance.
- Print out a calendar or visual timetable to prepare for Christmas and schedule in everything coming up over the next few weeks. Use pictures to link the calendar to their current interest (vehicles, Lego, Minecraft etc.) to help them connect to it.
- Go through the calendar regularly, highlighting the next event and crossing it off afterwards. This will help them to focus on one thing at a time.
- Remember to plan in any changes to food including changes to mealtimes, table set ups and menus.
- Many children will have differing sensory needs. Decorations are fine for some but may be overwhelming for others. Try and plan around any sensory issues that may cause distress, and consider solutions for sensory overload. You could also consider decorating gradually over the space of a few days.
- Identify, or create, a quiet place where children can go if everything gets too much. Ideally this area should stay ‘Christmas free’ and allow them to pursue activities that make them comfortable.
- Read the story of St Nicholas to help children understand why we have Father Christmas. If presents are being given out, it’s ok to say what’s inside – surprises may be something that some children cannot cope with.
- Every child on the spectrum is different, so investigate ways that the child can be part of the school nativity or play. This could be a role that they choose themselves, for example, oversee other actors, arranging music or lighting, or managing the computer or costumes.
- Be realistic, and remember that the key to preparing a successful and inclusive Christmas is to make sure that the individual concerned is central to all planning and that interventions are always tailored to their specific needs.
We hope that you’ve found our teacher tips useful, and that they can help to make Christmas a time that can be enjoyed by all.
For further support Teachers and teaching professionals looking to develop their understanding of ASD and support their practice can learn more by enrolling on our Autism Spectrum Disorder course.
For more information on visual timetables, social stories and advice see the National Autistic Society’s website
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