Tips for an autism-friendly Christmas
Tracy Beadle, mother of two children who are on the autistic spectrum, is one of the contributors to the Ambitious about Autism guide which has been crowd-sourced via social media and their Talk about Autism forums.
Her sons, seven-year-old Dylan Beadle and his four-year-old brother Jake both love Christmas but their social difficulties, sensitivities about touch, taste and noise, and untypical reactions to certain situations, have led mum Tracy and dad Glen to approach this part of the year a little differently.
Christmas preparations start for the family in late November to get Dylan and Jake ready for changes at home.
"We give the boys a count down of 'sleeps' before the decorations go up, and then again before they come down," Tracy says.
"A visual calendar is then hung in their bedroom and every night we stand and count the sleeps until Christmas Day."
The calendar is a sheet of paper with a square representing each day. All other squares are blank apart from Christmas Day which has present-bedecked stickers on it.
Both of the online guides appreciate that all children are different, so what works for one may not suit another.
The National Autistic Society suggests that some might benefit from having more events marked on their visual calendar, such as when the school holidays begin and end, when they can expect visitors and so on.
Finding out when preparation will begin at your child's school and then starting your family Christmas at home at the same time is another suggestion.
One Christmas inevitability for children is the annual school performance. Tracy's eldest son Dylan isn't a fan. "He has cried his way through the last three, so he isn't going to take part this year. It upsets him and it isn't an essential life skill."
Younger son Jake hopes to be in his school nativity play but Tracy says this took some work: "He went mad when he saw his shepherd's outfit, and said 'I go to school as a boy, not a shepherd'."
They took the costume in to school and introduced Jake to it slowly. He had learned the songs and was eager to go on stage, so after some encouragement from the teacher, Jake has been convinced to wear the robes during the show.
A fear of people in costume means that visiting Santa is not part of the Beadles' Christmas routine.
"We took Dylan once," Tracy remembers. "He was the only child there who, instead of sitting on Santa's lap, sat on a toy car and started playing with it. He wouldn't speak to Santa at all."
Like many others with autism, Jake and Dylan aren't good at faking delight if they get an unwanted gift. Friends and relatives now always ask mum and dad what the boys would like. For Tracy, this is an easy one to answer.
"They do tend to have an obsession each Christmas," she says. "It is Angry Birds this year. Last year it was Disney's Cars."
Tracy is aware of parents who discourage their autistic child's obsessions but she takes a different approach. "I completely over-indulge the obsessions, buying them every toy they want because I find that if you over-indulge them, it passes more quickly."
Both guides have plenty of tips for managing Christmas Day. Advice includes putting batteries in toys in advance so that they can be played with straight away and making sure that the Christmas meal is ready at a prearranged time.
The consensus, though, is to find a routine that works and stick to it. Through trial and error, Tracy and Glen Beadle have found a pattern of events which the boys like and which they expect to happen. So, what's their pattern?
"On Christmas Eve we go to visit my nan," says Tracy. "On the way home we take them to visit a house with thousands of pounds worth of decorations. On Christmas Day, we open presents and then my immediate family come for dinner."