BBC BLOGS - The Ouch! Blog It's a disability thing
« Previous | Main | Next »

Tips for an autism-friendly Christmas

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 15:01 UK time, Friday, 14 December 2012

Dylan and Jake Beadle in the snow with mum Tracy

Most of us see Christmas as a welcome excuse to break from the old routine, do lots of socialising and give and receive presents. But the holidays can prove challenging for children and adults on the autistic spectrum, who find change, crowds and surprises difficult to handle.

That's why Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society have both thought to produce their own online guides to help people with ASD, and their families, to cope with Christmas time.

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."

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.


  • Comment number 1.

    My autistic son used to struggle with surprises - he hated them! So we would tell him exactly what was inside the present before he opened it, and to avoid him being overwhelmed, he would only open or two presents at one time. Christmas took forever but it worked really well. Don't feel you have to do Christmas a particular way if your kids are different.

  • Comment number 2.

    Our daughter's Asperger's diagnosis is relatively recent and behaviour has gone off the rails for the past 2 Christmasses starting weeks in advance when activities started at school! We hope this year we've made it easier and more enjoyable for her. She's very articulate, but if you don't understand your own feelings or are overwhelmed, how can you comminicate about them?

  • Comment number 3.

    My son has ASD & loves Christmas. It takes till new year to open his presents but really enjoys playing with each one before moving onto the next.
    Hes in mainstream school & always had problems there, changes in routines etc but this year he's had a fantastic teacher who really understands him & has taken it very slow when introducing any changes, a visual timeline has really helped.

  • Comment number 4.

    As a woman with ASD, I found Christmas challenging as a child. BUT I believe that, in moderation, autistic kids NEED to face fears. People with ASD can live independent lives. To do so we build coping strategies. If we're protected from change and keep routines too much as kids, this gets harder. Autism is for life, and ASD kids need life skills. They can't build these if they're always shielded.

  • Comment number 5.

    chsristmast coming pray for autistic children be happy to celebrate.

  • Comment number 6.

    I am an adult Aspie. Christmas was always an important part of my life as a child.

    But as an adult christmas can be harsh and lonely

    I recently spoke at a conference run by Research Autism called Disorder or Difference. here you can see what Life was like for me as a child .

  • Comment number 7.

    I am an adult Aspie. Christmas was always an important part of my life as a child.

    But as an adult christmas can be harsh and lonely

    I recently spoke at a conference run by Research Autism called Disorder or Difference. here you can see what Life was like for me as a child just go to the research autism website and type my name Laurence Mitchell .

  • Comment number 8.

    Actually some of the ideas here are relevant for all children, we subject them to a raft of emotional stresses & unusual situations at this time of year & just expect them to deal with it as though they were adults, this is especially true nowdays with the huge amount of hype & the prolonged time over which it takes place

  • Comment number 9.

    In the comment below where I speak about speaking at the Research Autism Conference about being bulled as a child and how it affected my growing up as well as how certain incidents in my childhood manifested into traumas in my adult years the correct link for the video should be


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.