supporting neurodivergent kids at Christmas

12 ways to support your neurodivergent child this Christmas

Christmas can be challenging for many children, but in particular those who are neurodiverse or highly sensitive. Changes to routines, sensory difficulties, the pressure to socialise, overwhelm, uncertainty about presents and new experiences and lots of stimulation.

Kate from @NurturedNeuroKids has kindly shared her top 12 tips for supporting neurodivergent children at Christmas 🎄

Christmas can also bring lots of ‘should dos’, expectations, opinions and judgement. Always be led by the needs of your child, supporting their preferences and advocating for them at all times should help to create a Christmas that works for your child and your family. There is no one  way for how Christmas ‘should’ look. Remember Christmas should be enjoyable, so focus on what makes you and your child happy. However you celebrate it, and whatever your Christmas looks like, it is about the memories with those you love that matter.

  1. Be proactive if there is a situation your child might find challenging and make a plan to help this be more successful or easier for your child to manage, allowing them access at all times to support and regulation tools (ear defenders/noise cancelling headphones, sensory tools, visual and communication aids, fidget tools).

  1. Say no to the things that don’t work for your child or meet their needs. If your neurodivergent child gets anxious about, or cannot tolerate, having family visit your house, then it is okay to say no, or you could limit the number of visitors and the time they are able to stay for. If it is too much for your child to manage visiting another home for Christmas, then you can say no. Do Christmas your way, and in a way that is neuroaffirming to your child.

  1. Allow opportunities for your child to take the lead or have control over what happens, e.g. what decorations are in the house, which rooms might not have decorations, what food is served on Christmas day. Support your child to have control over physical affection and set boundaries if needed. Let your child lead and if they would rather just wave or say hello, then advocate for their preferences to be respected.

  1. Remove anxiety around presents and recognise autistic preferences – with your support your child could create a list of presents they would like for Christmas and then you could ask people to buy items from the list. That way you are reducing any anxiety your child might experience leading up to Christmas and worrying whether they will get the things they really want. Don’t put presents under the tree days before your child is allowed to open them, and perhaps think about whether they need to be wrapped. Any ‘counting down’ or ‘building up’ to an event might trigger anxiety or a perceived threat. Another way to remove anxiety is to let your child stagger present opening throughout December, when you see friends and family. Staggering presents will help to reduce overwhelm from lots of new things at once. Remember that ND children cannot tolerate the same amount of sensory input.

  1. Allow safe foods and support food preferences at all times. There should be no pressure for children to eat foods they don’t enjoy or cannot tolerate just because it is Christmas.

  1. Divide and conquer! If you have more than one child, then perhaps your ND child does not need to be part of everything that the rest of the family are (e.g. social gatherings, trips out to see Santa). Again, be led by your child and what they need or can manage and tolerate.

  1. Allow for buffers either side of busy days or periods of overwhelm and lots of stimulation and try to limit how much is scheduled/planned over the holidays. Allow your child time for sensory regulation and to decompress, especially if they have been struggling in school in the lead up to the Christmas. Let them lead these days – unlimited screen time, time to engage in preferred activities, time spent alone.

  1. Reduce and remove demands on your child as much as you can – what demands can be dropped? What isn’t essential to take part in or go to? Do they need to sit at the table, or even be downstairs when visitors are in your house?

  1. Give your child the space that they need when required and somewhere to go if they need a break. Christmas can be very challenging and overwhelming for many ND children. If you are visiting family then make a plan beforehand where your child can go when they need space, to regulate and have a break. This might be needed for quiet time, with no voices or talking or it might also be time needed for a sensory and movement break, either inside or outside. Don’t wait until your child is overwhelmed before suggesting a break or some space if needed.

  1. Keep routines and structure to your days to support your child. This is especially important for the end of the day and bedtime – try and keep the same routine and timings as you would normally. This will help your child to feel safe and be able to rest in routines that are familiar and predictable. Many autistic children take joy in the smaller things and find big events or changes overwhelming and exhausting.

  1. Don’t forget to keep filling your child’s sensory diet throughout the Christmas period. Stay curious about their behaviour and what they are communicating to you. What do they need? How are they managing? Be prepared to adjust plans or cancel if necessary.

  1. Place your child at the centre of decisions that are made, and remember to be their advocate – because if you aren’t, then who will be? 😊

Huge thanks to Kate from @NurturedNeuroKids for sharing this with us, we hope it has been helpful! Kate offers support for families with the assessment/diagnosis journey, understanding behaviour, anxiety, burnout, supporting routines, hygiene, bedtime and sleep support and coaching, Low demand parenting, PDA support along with school specialist support, preparation for meetings/EHC plan reviews, school setting support as well as home education. Kate is an ND coach and education consultant and her experience includes a degree in Child Psychology, teaching for 15 years and she is an ND parent, currently home educating.

Check our her Instagram to find out more or get in contact for support.

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