The Holidays & Autism: Enjoying Christmas As an Autistic Family by Carrie Watts
Bright wrapping, blaring music, flashy lights, shouts of joy and laughter. This is what Christmas specials tell us are the “normal” way to celebrate. But it doesn’t always go that way.
When my eldest son was 3, Christmas morning was a battle. He wouldn’t leave his room because he didn’t know what was waiting in the living room. We begged him to see what Santa had left – he told us to tell Santa to take it all away. He cried and hid under his covers when we said there were surprises; I cried all day because Christmas was ruined.
It was shortly after this that he was diagnosed as autistic and it all made sense – by taking away the “known,” we’d made the holiday about what we wanted rather than what he needed. The next year, we changed our focus:
- We wrapped his presents in clear cellophane so he could see what was waiting.
- We kept his normal breakfast routine.
- We spread gift opening throughout the day to give him time with each gift.
- We kept everything as routine as possible.
What we’d learned was that enjoying Christmas as a family is more important than the expectations we had. And though it wasn’t a frenzy or flashy, it was absolutely perfect in every way.