As I've told you before, I LOVED Christmas as a child. It was so very magical and homey and family-centered and delicious. I dreamed about recreating that with my own family some day.
Then, I actually had a family.
I had NO idea what it is to be a mother at Christmastime. It's really a wonder that all these little cherubs are still alive and breathing on Christmas morning, let alone having any gifts to open. Trying to do the 90 pounds of shit in the 10 pound day that you're already trying to do all year long as Mommy and then adding into that buying, wrapping, mailing, baking, decorating, whilst keeping the stuff that's supposed to be secret a secret, the mood light and festive, the kids from burning the house down or killing each other or you killing them, and the bedtime decent so that you can function, it's enough to make you GGGGGRRRR!!!! Every Mommy has just a smidge of Scrouge in her this time of year. Some of us have more.
Can I get an amen?
Right, so all mommies are a bit, shall we kindly say, intense at Christmastime.
But, as most parents know, there is nothing like the anticipatory joy of a child leading up to Christmas. Yeah, they're overtired, over-sugared, and over-hyped, but they exist during the "season" on a plane of amazement and joy that is unparalleled. They're excited...SO excited. And, the joy of Christmas morning makes all the work worth the stress and hassle and money. Seeing the pure joy on the cherubs' faces, seeing them show thankfulness, seeing them BELIEVE in something magical. It's amazing.
4A, good Aspie that she is, doesn't get that. Christmas makes her nuts. She craves/needs/has to have consistency and order and predictability and sameness. Christmastime offers her none of those things. All of that anticipation and excitement that the rest of us feel makes her crazy. Our house smells and looks different. The stores smell and look and sound and feel different; they're more crowded and loud.
She doesn't know what her gifts will be, and that makes her a little crazy and super prone to meltdown on the actual day. It's a surprise, after all. "Kids LOVE that; that's the whole fun of Christmas," you say. 4A didn't get that memo.
School is CRAZY because everyone else is excited and things lax somewhat in every classroom as the big day approaches. As the big day gets nearer, the kids are crazier, the teachers more tired from dealing with our crazy kids all day AND then their OWN in the evening, so lessons loosen or lessen in favor of FUN! As they should, I say. 4A doesn't agree.
Then, there's the whole grey concept of "being good" so that the Big Guy will visit. That one REALLY stresses her out. Her mind doesn't work in shades of grey. She makes one poor choice (hitting her sister, yelling at her brother, forgetting to bring home a book from school, goofs up on a test), and she's a mess, wondering if she really is "good." Never you mind that we do NOT use the word "good" to describe children in this house ever (or bad, for that matter). All children are good; they sometimes make bad choices, but they are all always good. Doesn't matter. That whole "good list/naughty list" Santa invention to keep kids' asses in line so their parents don't kill them during the holidays is EVERYWHERE! On every TV special, in every book, and on the lips of every stranger in the grocery store.
Sounds SO fun, huh?
This is a majorly intense time of year for 4A, so she has a greater-than-regular need for calm and consistency (and please remember how intense her version of regular need for support and calm and consistency is).
Here are the supports that we use to help 4A through the season.
We don't budge on bedtime or routine. No matter how fun or cool the activity. No matter how much we have to do. No matter how bad I want to throw in the towel and head for Mickey Ds. Bedtime stays inflexibly consistent. In fact, we try to get her to bed a little early with a longer "wind-down" period to read and just chill. We don't do many community or school activities; we don't do holiday parties. We do get together with extended family but in advance of the big day and for SHORT periods of time. We attend a few meaningful activities (and by few, I think I actually mean 2) on weekends, allowing an extra buffer for bedtime.
Avoiding the hustle and bustle
We don't Christmas shop with the kids. We do some online and take turns doing it while the other wrangles the kids. We do it super early in (or actually ahead of) the season. When she decides what she wants to make for her siblings, I bring the supplies home. The other kids LOVE to go out on a Mommy or Daddy date to shop, but 4A just can't take all the craziness. I must say that I can't blame her. Have you been out there? EGADS!
4Daddy also takes the middle two out for holiday merriment during 4D's nap so that 4A can stay home and chill while I bustle about with baking or wrapping or whatever. She's so happy to have that alone and quiet time in the house to read and be left alone. It helps her recharge for when they come bounding back into the house full of holiday glee.
We beef up the reinforcers. It's harder for her to stay calm and toe the line when the world around her is so crazy. We use reinforcers to motivate compliance even when the season makes compliance so hard for her. Her behavioral plan doesn't change. Our enforcement of it doesn't change. Same-same. But, we do more readily reinforce, especially for the holiday stuff that we do that isn't negotiable (going as a family to get our tree, visiting with family, going to church in the middle of the day on Christmas Eve)
Social stories and checklists
We use social stories and checklist, both for seasonal preparations that we do (like getting our tree, going to Christmas Eve service, visiting with family) and for the actual day of Christmas itself. There are also a lot of social demands around Christmas, like book exchanges or presentations at school or dressing up to go to church with Grandma because she wants to show you off in your holiday best.
Here is a social story that I used for a book exchange when 4A was in kindergarten. Worked beautifully. And, she did hate the book, by the way, but she waited until she got home to throw it away. :)
Here is a checklist that I used for Thanksgiving a few years ago (and I use a similar one on Christmas morning). How that girl LOVES to check stuff off.
Here is a social story that we used for 4A two years ago about Christmas. We used these "gimme a break" cards for her to let us know that she was overwhelmed. Those cards (I just scribbled "gimme a break" on read and green construction paper) staved off a LOT of tantrums.
Here's a social story that I used to curb her from asking everyone that we saw in the month of December for a present. Worked like magic!
Gifts that aren't new
One of the things that has always stressed her out the MOST on Christmas morning is her gifts. She has absolutely zero tolerance for "practice" or "learning how" to use something. She wants/needs to be able to do or use it exactly right from the first try. It seems like every toy requires assembly or learning new directions or whatever. Never mind that we always unwrap and assemble everything before wrapping. Never mind that we read directions and learn how to use or play the damn thing before she opens it. There are 3 other children in this house. It's hard to accurately describe the mayhem of glee that is Christmas morning.
Last year, my aunt sent 4A a friendship bracelet making kit. It was pure genius! She had used one before and learned how to make the EXACT same bracelets at summer camp. We open out-of-town gifts on Christmas Eve, so she had already opened that thing that SHE KNEW HOW TO USE and had it available to her all day on Christmas. It was the calmest Christmas that we have ever had. When the stress of the new things got to be too much for her, she kept going back to that bracelet kit. Heavenly! Thank you Aunt L! ;)
I also gave her a "pen pal kit," filled with note paper and envelopes, a pen, and address labels for her cousins. She wrote letters almost all day.
So, this year, Santa is bringing her a heap-load of art supplies and sketch pads. That's her main gift. All things that she knows how to use. That package will be the VERY first thing that she opens. The second thing that she's opening is a big stack of books, two of which she's already read from the library but will be her own copies. We can resort back to those sketch pads and books all day long when she gets overwhelmed.
It requires a bit more elbow grease to have "fun" with an Aspie at Christmastime, but it's totally doable. And, everything with an Aspie requires more elbow grease and everything at Christmastime requires more elbow grease, so what's the big deal, right?