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ASD Top Tips

  • Multicoloured image of silhouettes jumping Try to understand why your child might be behaving the way that they are. Some behaviour might seem unusual or peculiar, but if the behaviour isn’t harmful they shouldn’t be discouraged. It’s likely that your child is using it as a coping strategy to help them manage something they are finding difficult.
  • A lot of children often feel anxious if they don’t understand what is happening, what they are supposed to do or if there are too many things that they struggle with being asked of them. Using anxiety management strategies at certain times across the day can give them opportunities to manage anxiety bit by bit to help stop it from building up over time. Sometimes the most challenging and difficult behaviour can happen because your child is feeling worried or anxious and they need help to calm.
  • Difficult behaviour is often a way of communicating something that your child might not be able to say or might not understand themselves. All behaviour has a reason behind it, although we and they might not always know what that is straight away and sometimes it can be a guessing game. If you’re not sure why certain behaviour is happening, be patient and record as much information as you can about it. Noting down what was happening at the time, before and after can give clues as to why the behaviour might be occurring, which can make it easier to understand how to best support your child. You could also ask school for help with this.Image of a rainbow with the words - We are different yet beautiful, like the colours in the rainbow
  • Help your child to label their emotions if they struggle to do this. This can be done by helping them to recognise feelings within their bodies and to notice the differences in how they feel after certain events, such as things that are likely to make them feel, happy, worried, frustrated, sad, etc.
  • Be consistent and use clear language to help your child understand what is expected of them. It is often helpful to break instructions down into steps, use prompts and use a combination of words and pictures to help them understand and retain information.
  • Work with other adults who help support your child and try to make sure things are consistent. This will help your child better understand the rules and what is expected of them and may help them to feel less nervous or worried.
  • There are lots of times when consequences are appropriate to help your child understand what to do and not to do, but someone with social communication difficulties may have difficulty linking the consequence to what has happened that is being discouraged. Using rewards and praise when they do positive things can often be more effective as this encourages favourable behaviour. This tends to be most effective when praise or reward is given immediately, but can be more effective than punishing unwanted behaviour.

Image of multicoloured painted hand prints

  • Help your child to reduce their anxiety by planning their day or week with them so that they understand what to expect and when things will happen. This might involve making a timetable, diary or using a ‘Now and Next’ approach. When someone feels they have a better idea of what is going to happen, this can make them feel more comfortable.
  • Some children may struggles with certain sounds, textures, or tastes. This may be due to sensory sensitivities. It’s helpful to identify what sensory experiences they like and do not like so their environment can be adapted as much as possible to help reduce stress.

Supporting Children / Young People at Christmas

Option Autism – Link to full resource

OptionsAutism leaflet for autism friendly christmas

Bright twinkling lights, carols, meeting new people, eating different foods...sound like a perfect Christmas? For people on the autistic spectrum Christmas can be a stressful time and not the welcome break that most people enjoy.
For most people these are things that make Christmas so special, however for an individual with autism these are the very factors that make Christmas so difficult and a time to get through as quickly as possible.
In this issue we offer advice and guidance for parents and carers who look after children, young people and adults with autism, so that Christmas can be a more enjoyable and less stressful time for all involved.
Image: created by one of the young people we support

1. How to handle change

Some people with autism find change difficult. Changes to routines, environment and social expectations can mean that Christmas can be a confusing and challenging time. For those who value predictability surprise guests can be overwhelming.
The abstract nature of the festive season can also heighten people's anxiety. Overall these changes can result in an unpleasant experience, so what can we do to help people enjoy the festivities and reduce distress? Introduce the decorations slowly so the changes to the environment are not sudden. Alternatively, just have the decorations up from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day in order to reduce the length of the time of the change.
Involve everyone in planning the changes; for example shopping for decorations, deciding where to put them, deciding on the number of decorations.
Create a schedule for Christmas day including all activities such as opening presents, eating lunch, and family visits. A schedule will create structure and reduce the unpredictability of Christmas day.
Create a safe Christmas free zone. If Christmas becomes overwhelming this can be used as a retreat.

Some of the people we support shared their thoughts about Christmas...
"I don't like crowds at Christmas"
"Carols are a bit Loud"
"I don't like singing with lots of people"
"I get excited about Christmas but sometimes / Feel a bit anxious"
"I prefer Christmas to be short"

2. Sensory Overload

Christmas can be an overstimulating time of year for someone on the autistic spectrum. Some will appreciate the new high impact sensory stimulation, for others this can be a struggle.
The types of extra sensory stimulation that we tend to associate with Christmas include:
Vision-Extra visual stimulation to process such as lights and decorations
Smell-Different and often more intense smells such as incense, perfumes, cooking. rich food to smell and taste.

Touch can be affected by new clothes, adornments, decorations and crowds.
Sound-New and multiple layered sounds to process such as crowds, background music, excited children, carol singers and brass bands.
With heightened sensory stimulation someone with autism can find these sensory stimulations overwhelming and not at all pleasurable. Here are some tips to reduce sensory overload and to manage difficult situations.
Steer clear of crowds if you know this is a difficult situation.
Keep decorations to a minimum. 
Avoid Christmas crackers.
Offer structure to present opening e.g. take turns opening gifts, restrict the number of gifts from each person.
Use preferred therapeutic tools to reduce sensory overload e.g. ear defenders, fiddles, weighted therapy.

3. Communication aids

Communication aids have been shown to reduce anxiety for people on the autistic spectrum. Big changes in routines such as going to events, parties and meeting new people can not only make the world appear chaotic and unpredictable, but also places new social demands on the person which can lead to heightened levels of arousal and
Good communication is vital in preparing people for change; without the appropriate communication strategies those with autism can feel excluded and find the festive period stressful.
So what strategies can we use?
 Countdown calendars to visually communicate Christmas day and the events leading up it.
Story boards to communicate changes in routines.
visual schedules to communicate daily routines and reduce the level of disruption.
 Christmas Makaton signs to enable the person with autism to feel included.