Complex Needs & Christmas- tips for creating a stress-free environment

Complex Needs & Christmas- tips for creating a stress-free environment

Christmas is an exciting and fun time for most but for someone with a learning disability and/ or autism is can be stressful as they may find all the new activity confusing and distressing.

Here are some useful tips to help those caring for someone with complex needs in creating a stress-free environment this Christmas.  

It’s all in the Preparation!

Change can be very difficult for a person with autism so consistency and preparation are key. You could:

  • Prepare for Christmas using a calendar or visual timetable to highlight particular events over the festive period

  • Talk about Christmas and what it means

  • Make a booklet about Christmas with lots of pictures of Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas food etc. Be aware that if the person takes things very literally they may become anxious if Christmas does not happen exactly as in the pictures

Keep to a routine

Many people with autism like to have a routine, with this in mind over the festive period you could help by:

  • Keeping the daily schedule the same as much as possible including on Christmas Day

  • Incorporate a Christmas activity that they enjoy into their daily schedule such as opening the advent calendar

  • Have some Christmas-free time each day so that the person does not feel overwhelmed and anxious with all of the new noises, lights and smells Christmas brings

Decorate gradually

It can be overwhelming for individuals with autism or learning disability to suddenly find themselves surrounded by Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree with flashing lights in a room or area they are usually familiar with. To help with this you could:

  • Involve the person in the Christmas decorations. You could do this in a number of ways such as taking them shopping for Christmas decorations, letting them touch and hold the decorations or involving them in the decorating of a room either by letting them watch the decorations being hung up or let them help putting them up

  • Decorate gradually to get the person used to the idea of Christmas decorations. You get the decorations out one day, put the tree in position the next and then decorate another day.

Presents could present problems!

Sometimes having a large number of presents can be overwhelming. To help this you could:

  • Introduce presents one by one rather than all at once

  • Put out a present next to something that is familiar to them or something they really like

  • Consider how the presents are going to be wrapped. Some people with autism or learning disability don’t like the sensation of wrapping paper, don’t like the surprise of opening wrapped presents or think that the picture on the wrapping paper is what is inside the parcel. To help with this you may consider; not wrapping the gift, wrapping it in plain paper with a picture of the contents stuck on the outside or wrapping the gift in clear cellophane so that the person has the experience of unwrapping a gift but can see exactly what is in the package

These tips have been put together using resources found on The National Autistic Society website