Enjoying Christmas Festivity - Autism Style
The current rate of Autism in U.S children is 1-in-59. With 90-95% of children diagnosed with Autism comes a light sensitivity and around Christmas time, this can put a HUGE damper on the holiday enjoyment. Large crowds, strange smells and bright flashing lights can send even low end spectrum children into a frenzy. Parents want one thing above all else for their children: FOR THEM TO BE HAPPY. So what is about Christmas time that can make things so difficult, and what advice can be given to parents of spectrum kids to help spread happiness during the holidays? I know from personal experience that when it comes to spectrum children, these parents have DONE THEIR RESEARCH! They also have been through the ringer when it comes to exploring ways to cope with outbursts of behavioral issues around this time of year.
There has not been sufficient research as to say why spectrum children have light sensitivity and theories exist that include abnormal pupillary reflexes or physical differences in the structure of the central nervous system. Others suggest that that light isn’t even the problem, but a combination of environmental and emotional stressors. So looking at the environmental and emotional stressors, think on this. You have placed your child, whose brain has trouble processing sensory information, into a place where they are BOMBARDED with it. It’s easy to see that this can be a HUGE issue. BUT, instead of taking the advice of some professionals and avoiding the situations altogether, take the advice of so many parents that have been through this EXACT scenario, and look at some ways to accommodate, and ultimately overcome the issue altogether.
So what are some fun ways to enjoy the Christmas holiday without having to be constantly worried whether your child might have a reaction to the bright and flickering Christmas lights, the multitude of smells, or the large crowds surrounding your favorite holiday events? I have compiled a few ideas taken straight from parents of spectrum children to get you started.
Find and Call ahead to events, parties, etc.
Most events are more than willing to accommodate for families with spectrum children by allowing early entry to local events or providing special accommodation to ensure everyone can enjoy themselves. A simple phone call to a friend who is hosting a party and asking them to set aside a room as a safe space for your child can make all the difference in having an enjoyable evening. You can also search in your local area for special events that cater to spectrum children. With more and more sensory centers opening up, many now host special sensory events right around Christmas time! It is a great way to spend time with the family and ensure everyone has a good time. The tip I received from the parent of a spectrum patient was this:
If the child begins to have an outburst, go to a safe space for 10 minutes and let them calm down. Then make an agreement that they return to the event and receive a small reward for doing so. Over time this will lead to increased time at events with less time in the safe space. While it is a longer term fix, it is a great way to alter the overall behavior instead of shooting for short term relief.
Ready to decorate? Start small!
There are a ton of ways to decorate your home as a sensory-friendly environment for Christmas time, and many places to find ideas for spectrum children. HOWEVER, the conversation I had with a spectrum mother recently gave me some of the best perspective on this one. I asked her what sort of changes they made in their home decorations and her response was, “Now? None.” As it runs out, she was able to get her son so used to the way they decorate that it doesn’t even affect him anymore! The advice she did give for parents with highly sensitive children is to start small. Get your child used to small amounts of lights, a small lit tree, a single strand of lights etc. and over time, become more extravagant. If you can start this at an early age, then by the time they are a teenager, the outcome can be huge for the family. So the concentration here is the long term ability to really have your child enjoy the Christmas holidays! How profound (seeing a theme yet?)
It’s no secret that when attending larger events it can be difficult for spectrum children to enjoy themselves due to the excess noise. For that reason I would recommend finding a good set of headphones your child can be comfortable in and still enjoy themselves. But that’s old information right? Well kind of. Let’s take it a step further by finding a pair of earphones that you can adjust the amount of ambient noise let through! This of course goes back to working to help lessen the effect of ambient noise over time. Here is a link to various sets of headphones for your little ones. For the lights around the holiday times, offering up a pair of sunglasses to block out the vibrance of the surrounding lights can help to ease the amount of light being taken in, thereby lessening the effects of the bright and flickering Christmas lights.
Ensure their Nervous System is working at its best
You can see by now that while there are short-term fixes available to all families, nothing compares to working towards long term solutions. The human brain processes trillions of bits of information on a second to second basis. In a child on the spectrum, there is often great difficulty in processing sensory information. It is paramount to a child’s health to ensure they have a proper line of communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Finding an Upper Cervical Chiropractor that can successfully detect and correct these lines of communication is of absolute importance. Autism is often times referred to as a genetic disorder, but I once heard a very wise man say that genetics are just the gun, the environment within the body is what pulls the trigger. You can ensure a higher quality of life for your child by following this VERY important step.
Listen, as I said before, the thing that matters most to a parent is that their child be healthy, happy, and full of life. I know that is what I want for my kids and it is exactly what I try to achieve for them on a daily basis. If you have taken the time to read this, it is likely your goal as well. At The Specific Chiropractic Centers of Fort Worth, we stand for a world in which Health comes naturally, not forcefully. Let us help you find EXACTLY what you are looking for by scheduling a consult on our website. Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
-Dr. Casey Sanders