Happy 1st December…in our household Christmas can begin. We have our Advent Calendar Reindeer and of course, our Elf. I remember last Christmas J was not impressed but it all. He didn’t like the change in routine or the change in how the house looked.
It took us three weeks to put the decorations up fully as we had to do it all one step at a time. We put stickers on the window, then lights in the living room, then moved on to adding decorations in other rooms and then last of all the Christmas Tree. We haven’t even started any decorations yet this year.
I make sure J is involved. I need to make sure he has that little form of control on things like colour, position and style. By having this control he can feel more reassured. It’s tradition in our household to go visit the ‘Christmas Shop’ and let J choose one new decoration for the tree. We’ve had Santa’s train, Santa’s car…it doesn’t matter if the tree looks a bit ‘mix and match’, it’s about the memories. We look at all the decorations and then go to the cafe for drink and treat. It’s just J, Mummy and Daddy time.
Advent calendars can also be difficult. They can bring out emotions such as excitement, and anticipation as your child wants to know what’s behind the door. What treat will it be? But then there’s also the anxiety of ‘is it something nice?’, ‘is it going to be different?’. Then the need to understand that you can’t open them all in one day…for some autistic children this is challenging because they often live in the moment. J can be very tunnel visioned and the idea of not knowing and waiting is difficult.
To help with this I have a ‘visual reminder’ next to the advent calendar so J can see that there is just one per day. That there will be one every day until the boxes are gone. Visuals work best for us because when J is struggling with his emotional regulation the first thing to go is his hearing and talking. He reverts back to non-verbal and can become physical. Having the visual means he doesn’t have to listen or see me. He can just be directed to the image and it reassures him. The visual reminder doesn’t change. It’s the same image and message each day.
J isn’t a huge fan of chocolate (not sure how he is my child). He only eats two or three types of chocolate and in small amounts (he has a very restricted diet). I knew he wouldn’t like the shop brought calendars so instead we make our own. I also include some toys. Only small ones but toys that are technically part of his Christmas present. This way he doesn’t have as many to open and be overwhelmed by on Christmas Day.
This year there are some Milky Way Magic Stars, Kinder chocolates, Star Wars hotwheel cars (£1 each in Poundland) and three Star Wars LEGO Christmas figures (I got them from a local market stall). I didn’t spend a huge amount but I know that these are items he’ll love and get a lot of use from.
Now onto the Elf…
I think that everyone has heard of the Elf by now and everyone has an opinion. Some love it and others hate it. I can see both sides of the argument. In some ways it is just more consumerism and a bit of a ‘social media’ game (who can be the most extravagant? Who can spend the most on the accessories that have now appeared in shops?). However, it can also be a bit of Christmas fun. It extends the Christmas cheer and makes a little excitement each day for the children.
Some elves are used to ‘teach lessons’ such as being kind and charitable, being naughty and the child having to sort out the problem or it’s to encourage (bribe? Scare?) the child to behave as Santa is being told everything that happens
The latter is a concept that makes J anxious. J is no more naughty than an average preschooler. He can be cheeky, talk back to me and be a general pain in the backside. However he is also kind, loving, funny and clever. The difficulty for J is that autism makes life that little bit…tricky at times. J struggles with regulating his emotions. He can be either end of the see saw. One minute he’s excited and over stimulated which can get him in trouble for being a bit rough or not listening as he has to spin and jump around. Or he can be so sad and angry that everything is red and he can’t get out of it. He can’t bring himself into the centre to calm down so he doesn’t make the best decisions. It’s a bit like being stuck in ‘fight or flight’ mode and not being able to get out.
He’s behaviour during this times isn’t ‘naughty’. It’s a cry for help and a need to try and control, and deal with what he’s feeling. He doesn’t have a say in the world around him so we can’t guarantee that something won’t trigger his reactions. In these times we can’t blame him for his behaviour…and neither can santa. Having the ‘threat’ that Santa will hear about it sets off J’s anxiety. He gets upset and can’t settle. It’s not fair to expect him to behave perfectly for the whole 25 days.
So, we tell J that Elvis the Elf is here for us to look after as Santa is so busy with Christmas that he can’t look out for him. We’re the Elf Babysitters, haha. I have other methods of supporting and dealing with J’s behaviour so I don’t need Santa to help me out.
Elves can again be a challenge for children with Autism. Not all, I will add. Autism is a huge spectrum and every child (and adult) who is autistic can sit in completely different parts of it. I’m using J and my experience teaching children on the spectrum in these examples. The elves represent a change in routine. There’s someone new in the house and they may bring in different items. Everyday the Elf changes position and what thy are doing. For children who need routine and need structure, the not knowing can be painful for them.
For J, he didn’t like the idea of Elvis being naughty. He didn’t like the idea that Elvis might play tricks. J can’t control these things and it’s upsetting. So last year Elvis was funny and helpful. He set up activities for us to do together or would play with J’s toys. He did things that made us laugh. Towards the end of our time with Elvis J started to look for him whenever he came down the stairs.
For us, Elvis is short lived. J finds where he is and what he’s doing, then he’s done with him for the day. He doesn’t treat Elvis as guest or toy. He won’t play with him or feed him, or care for him. Elvis is a ‘thing’ and J doesn’t have the imagination skills to create situations to play for him. This doesn’t stop him from having fun though.
That’s the reason we do it. It’s a bit of fun and a part of our family tradition. If J decided he doesn’t want Elvis to come anymore, then it will stop. We’ll tell Santa we’re too busy and will let someone else help instead (probably Grandma or J’s cousins). However judging by today’s reaction to his Santa Darth Vader lego figure I think he’s happy for Elvis to stay…at least for now.