December 07, 2006

Tips for sharing holidays with autistic children

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Kids with autism often crave routine, making the holiday season, with its spontaneous, unorganized chaos, overwhelming for them. To make the day itself more manageable, children attending classes at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders will practice opening gifts and seeing Santa during most of December.

For families with an autistic family member, Clinic Director Rebecca J. Trammel offers these tips for turning holiday fear to holiday cheer.

• Save on wrapping paper.

"Children with autism might not like opening presents — all that ripping of paper and the shiny bows might not be attractive to them," Trammel says.

• Dim the lights.

"Gift giving should be done in a quiet room, one easily opened gift at a time," Trammel advises.

• Think "Twelve Days of Christmas" — or even more: Opening just a few gifts each day whittles the season down into manageable chunks.

• Explain the holiday rules to family members who may not see your child all that often, and let them know that children with autism don't necessarily respond with the outward signs of gratitude they may be used to from other kids.

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.