Lived Experience: A new way to do Christmas

Asking your child what is hard for them around Christmas can help you prepare and make it a smoother more enjoyable period for the whole family

The end of the year is just around the corner, and what a year it has been! I don’t know about you but ours has been filled with ups and downs. The downs have been pretty low.

That’s the thing about neurodevelopmental differences like ADHD and Autism – they are dynamic in their nature. Depending on the demands placed upon you, the environment, and the supports available, someone’s needs can change and in turn their mood and behaviour.

This Christmas I decided to do things a little bit differently. I decided to talk to my child about what things were hard for them during this period. Instead of expecting them to remember and articulate their thoughts, I created the image below and asked them to pick 3 things they could do without.

What can make Christmas better for neurodivergent kids

They told me they wanted to take out the following:

  1. Expected to participate – I don’t want to be asked repeatedly to do something I don’t want to do
  2. Surprises – I don’t want to be rude and make someone feel bad because I am given a present I don’t want and don’t like
  3. Endless visitors – There are always people coming by and staying too long so I can’t relax and do what I want

Okay, I’ll be honest, my child’s answers weren’t entirely a shock to me. Over the years there have been comments, pushback, and complaints about these things, but I dismissed them. I didn’t take them on board because I was trying to meet other people’s expectations and deliver what I thought was a “good” Christmas. Not this year. This year I’m listening and actioning.

Kiddo – We’ll support you when you say that you don’t want to participate in games/farewells/hugs/kisses and we’ll handle questions and comments. Let’s agree on what you can do instead.

Expectations to participate only put pressure on kids to perform when we want them to. Is it worth pushing them? Who will it please?

Kiddo – We’ll tell you what gifts you are getting so there are no surprises, but you don’t get to open them until Christmas. You choose if you want to open them with everyone else or separately.

I’ve always been taught that you should always be grateful for what you have and what you get. The problem with this idea is that I’m projecting an adult attitude filled with years of experience on a child. Telling my kiddo what they are getting for Christmas gives us a chance to talk about the gifts privately instead of expecting them to respond “appropriately” in front of family.

Kiddo – We’ll keep visitors to a minimum and we’ll host only the one thing we’ve agreed on. You’ll know what, when, and who, and you’ll have options to tap out. I’ll let you know if things change so that there are no surprises and we can find a solution that works for everyone.

In previous years we’ve hosted both Christmas Eve, the Portuguese tradition, and Christmas Day, which is when Australians celebrate. Tacked on to that we’ve also hosted people staying, drinks, and playdates. It’s too much. Kiddo is right.

This family is fast running out of fuel. Not only has the end-of-year exhaustion truly set in, but in the last week one parent and one kiddo got a nasty virus and the other kiddo broke their leg. I’m the last one standing (literally!!), so I’m filling in the gaps and hoping I don’t catch the malaise. You can call me the eternal optimist because I’m feeling good about the next few days.

Happy holidays!

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