Christmas can be a demanding time for anyone but even more if you happen to be autistic and most of all for children with a PDA (Pathological demand avoidance) profile and their families.
I thought I had Christmas sorted but as I have removed the obvious demands more subtle ones have come to light for my PDA none more so than the advent calendar…
Every year I buy my son an advent calendar thinking that it will help him to prepare himself a little for Christmas psychologically and emotionally and it has only been this week I realised the error of this assumption. What I am actually doing is increasing the anxiety of the build up to Christmas and adding an implied demand to open a door and eat a sweet everyday (something I only noticed when getting ‘behind’ with his doors caused him enormous anxiety this week). And what for? Because I loved advent calendars as a child and want to see my child open one? Madness!
Anyway we have had some truly awful Christmas’s over the years including one a couple of years ago when it triggered such a bad meltdown for my son that he smashed up the entire house and left me severely bruised, so believe me, I know how tough it can be, not least for the PDAer themselves. However I am here to tell you that a PDA Christmas can be a joy for all if you let go of the pressures of tradition and expectation and make adjustments needed to reduce extra demands on your child at his time.
Here are my 10 golden rules for a PDA friendly Christmas;
- Talk through your plans for Christmas Day and any areas of difficulty, make necessary adjustments wherever possible.
- Stagger gifts over the day or even week, perhaps allow them to be opened in private.
- Decorate gradually but don’t start too early as anxiety can build.
- Minimise the number of people and settings on the day.
- Allow recovery time and keep in mind the build up of multiple events over the week not just the day.
- Don’t force unfamiliar foods for the sake of tradition or politeness.
- Avoid surprises as much as possible.
- Show empathy and understanding for the sensory bombardment of Christmas (cooking smells, noisy relatives, painful pin needles, gaudy decorations etc) and minimise where possible.
- Allow and facilitate choice. DO take no for an answer and have a backup plan so that is possible.
- Finally….Keep it simple and go with the flow.