Tips For Decorating an Autism Friendly Christmas Tree
Christmas can be overwhelming for children with autism. There can be a lot of changes to routine and a lot of things that can be hard for children with sensory processing difficulties, such as bright lights, loud music and different smells. A Christmas tree is a traditional part of many families' Christmas, but of course, it isn’t needed. We always recommend making your own traditions. But for those whose children can tolerate having a Christmas tree in their house, here are some tips that you might find helpful for decorating it.
Are you wondering how you can make your Christmas tree Autism Friendly?
1. Create a social story and use communication aids.
Consider creating a social story to tell your child all about Christmas trees. The different types (real or fake), decorating them, the lights and smell. Use your child’s communication aids, such as PECs and AAC devices, to tell them what you are about to do. Explaining beforehand, might help to reduce any anxiety that they might have and help them prepare for the change.
2. Let them be involved in the process (if they want to be)
If they want to be involved in the process, let them be from start to finish and make it fun! They can help to pick a tree, decorate it, and turn the lights on. Similarly, if they would rather watch or not be involved, don’t put any pressure on them to join in.
3. Consider the lights that you use.
You know your child best and how their sensory needs might be impacted by the lights on the tree. Consider whether colourful lights or white ones would be best and consider ones with a dimmer so that you can alter the brightness. Lights that flash might be overwhelming so you might want to avoid these completely and keep your lights simple. Remember, you create your own traditions and what works best for your family – perhaps your tree doesn’t need to have lights.
4. Decorate at their pace.
It might be too overwhelming for your child to do everything at once and easier for them to do things gradually. Decorate at a pace that suits them. It might take an hour, a day, or a week. Whatever works.
5. Make a wall mounted felt or paper tree.
Some children might like the idea of a Christmas tree but find having one too overwhelming. This is when you might want to look in to making a felt or paper tree that you can stick on to the wall and decorate with felt or paper decorations.
6. Think about the best place to put your tree.
It might be that your child can only manage to be around the Christmas tree for short periods. Consider where you put it. For example, it might be best not to put it in the living room if this is a room that they are in a lot.
7. Remember Christmas is about making your own traditions.
It can be hard as a parent when you have an image in your head of what Christmas should look like and it turns out to be something completely different. The truth is, Christmas is never like it is in the movies. Yes, it can be wonderful, but it is also stressful and a lot of work. Try to remember this and focus on making your own traditions and forgetting about old ones. Christmas trees are lovely, but they don’t make Christmas. You do.