Many of you will be seeing family or friends who have a child with Autism this Christmas… here are 5 things you can do to make sure that visit goes a little more smoothly for everyone involved..
1. Try to prepare yourself and your children for what to expect from the autistic child.
If you don’t know what to expect ASK the parents. Most special needs parents are happy to answer honest questions. If you are not comfortable asking you may want to do some research on the internet prior to your visit but remember that all Autistic children are different.
Make sure your whole family knows that extra patience and understanding is needed. New situations can be very stressful for kids with Autism and could cause some undesirable behavior.
2. If gifts are involved check first with the child’s parents to make sure you get something appropriate.
There may be certain things the family tries to avoid and they could probably give you some idea of what the child will really like.
Autistic kids don’t lie or fake-it. If they love it you will know. If they hate it you will know. Think of this as a positive trait- you will always know that they are telling the truth. Always. That is a beautiful thing.
But if they are unhappy – either with the gift itself or the fact that cousin Jimmy got a cooler gift or the beautiful handmade sweater feels scratchy to their sensitive skin… don’t take it personally.
Put yourself in their shoes and know that life is a heck of a lot harder for them than it is for you. Every. Single. Day.
3. Accommodate the child and family whenever possible.
Try not to be offended at anything the child does- whether it is refusing to hug you, invading your personal space, refusing to eat that lovely Turkey dinner, or covering their ears when you sing Christmas carols.
The holidays are a crazy time for everyone and all those changes are very hard on Autistic kids. Autism comes with a whole host of sensory issues and things like Christmas carols can sound like nails on a chalkboard to some Autistic kids. Lights can be too bright and hurt their eyes. The cold snow can actually feel painful. Not knowing what is happening next can cause panic. Lots of happy family chatter can actually be really stressful for some Autistic kids.
Some might withdraw. Some might get crazy hyper. Some might have a complete meltdown. Some might make repetitive movements like turning in circles and flapping their arms.
Just react calmly and remember that the whole world looks and feels different to a kid with Autism.
4. Avoid giving the parents any advice or judgmental “my child doesn’t behave like that” looks.
Trust me when I tell you every single parent of an Autistic child already knows their kid is different. They have already looked into the best parenting methods and treatments and probably don’t want to hear about how going gluten-free cured your friend’s uncle’s son’s autism (even if it really did).
Everywhere they go people give them advice and condescending looks. Be different.
Trust that they really do know how to parent their child even if that looks very differently from the way you parent your child.
We love our kids. We want you to love them too. We appreciate your concern but we are doing the best we can and if we want your advice we will ask for it. Just loving us is the very best gift you can give a family with Autism.
5. Have Fun!
Don’t focus so much on the special need that you forget to enjoy the time together.
Remember that there is an amazing kid in there and Autism can make that a bit harder to see. But try. It is worth it.
Be sure not to ignore the neurotypical (aka “normal”) siblings of the Autistic child. They get ignored a lot and life is tough for them. They need extra love and attention too.
Focus on the good and enjoy your visit!
Tara is a pastor’s wife and work at home mom with 3 beautiful children. Olivia is 4 years old, Owen is 7 years old, and Aiden is 8 years old and has been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism & ADHD. She blogs daily about life, the universe, and everything at Tara’s View of the World.