Home Science: Make a colour changing magic potion!

These colour changing molecules can be changed from indigo to brilliant blue or bright pink with a few simple experiments!

Pigments are molecules that contain colour and the ones in red cabbage juice ( anthocyanin ) are pretty special. By adding a base or acid, we can both change their shape and their colour! The pigments are easy to collect and the basis for two easy home experiments: Colour Changing Magic Potions and Making Litmus Paper.

First, you will need to collect some magic molecules from a red cabbage: click here to find out how.

Materials

Change your purple cabbage juice to blue by adding a base and to red/pink by adding an acid.

Directions

  1. Pour your prepared red cabbage juice into two clear glasses or small bowls.
  2. Into one glass, stir 1 tsp of baking soda. Watch the solution turn blue – indicating that the pH has turned basic.
  3. Into the second glass, stir 3 Tbsp of white vinegar. Watch the solution turn red/pink – indicating that the pH has turned acidic.
  4. For fun, pour the glass containing vinegar into the glass containing baking soda and watch them foam! Tip: for less mess, pour both solutions into a big bowl!
Foaming magic potion fun!
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Home Science: Making Litmus Paper

Make your litmus paper to test acids and bases – it’s easy!

You don’t need expensive chemistry kits containing dangerous chemicals to have fun doing science at home. This simple (and colourful) experiment will help you make you own litmus paper so that you can test acids and bases using simple household ingredients. You can also test these by making a colour changing magic potion!

First, you will need to collect some magic molecules from a red cabbage: click here to find out how.

Materials

  • Red cabbage juice
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Dishwashing Liquid
  • Lemon juice
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Vinegar
Making home made litmus paper
Home-made Litmus Paper

Directions – Part 1

  1. You will need your red cabbage juice (cooled and strained) and some paper towels. I folded mine twice to make thick squares.
  2. Quickly dip / submerge the paper towels into the red cabbage juice. Don’t hold them under for too long as you want them to collect the colour pigments but not get so soggy that they fall apart. It’s a little like candle dipping – you may need to do a couple of dips to get a good colour.
  3. Place the purple paper towels on a clean tray (that won’t stain) and put them somewhere warm (like the hot water cupboard) to dry until the next day.
  4. You now have litmus paper! Cut them into strips for easy dipping.
Testing Acids and Bases

Directions – Part 2

  1. Using glasses or small bowls prepare the solutions that you want to test. Your litmus paper will stay purple in ph neutral solutions, turn red-pink in acidic solutions, and turn blue in basic solutions.
  2. Dip away!

We used:

Bases: soapy water, baking soda, baking powder.

Acids: vinegar, lemon juice.

Don’t worry if your experiment doesn’t go perfectly (ours didn’t!); simply use it as a talking point to discuss why things didn’t turn out as expected. In our case, the detergent and baking powder didn’t dissolve properly which meant that out litmus paper stayed purple (recognising the ph neutral water). For more ideas on common acids and bases: click here.

Home Science: Making Magic Molecules

These colour changing molecules can be changed from indigo to brilliant blue or bright pink with a few simple experiments!

Pigments are molecules that contain colour and the ones in red cabbage juice ( anthocyanin ) are pretty special. By adding a base or acid, we can both change their shape and their colour! The pigments are easy to collect and the basis for two easy home experiments: Colour Changing Magic Potions and Making Litmus Paper.

Materials

  • 1/2 red cabbage
  • Hot water
  • A food processor (or a big pot)
  • Bowl
  • Fine colander or flour sieve
Simply blending the red cabbage in boiling water produces amazing bubbles!

Directions

  1. Shred or coarsely chop the red cabbage.
  2. You can then choose whether to boil or blend. I chose blending and it’s meant to result in slightly better colour.
    • Boil: Pop in a pot with enough water to cover the cabbage and boil for 15 minutes.
    • Blend: Pop in a food processor with about 3 cups of boiling / hot water. Blend until the cabbage is finely processed and then leave to soak for 15 minutes.
  3. Allow the cabbage mixture to cool and then strain the juice into a bowl. Tip: The juice will stain so glass is great if you have it. I used a flour sieve to strain mine into a glass pyrex jug.

You now have the cabbage juice you need for your two science experiments!

Added Extras

You can also freeze leftover juice in ice cube trays to make all natural coloured icing for birthday cakes or cupcakes!

Caramel Crunch Cookies

Caramel Crunch Cookies

These delicious crunchy cookies are also a great opportunity to discuss science in the kitchen! STEM discussion points follow after the recipe 🙂

Ingredients

  • 125 butter
  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Start the oven preheating to 180’C / 350’F.
  2. Have a grown up mix the butter, sugar, maple syrup, and milk in a pot. Heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is almost boiling – you’ll be able to see the surface tension change as it begins to think about bubbling. Make sure that you stir constantly so that it doesn’t stick or burn.
  3. Remove from heat and allow the caramel to cool to lukewarm.
  4. Sift the flour and baking soda into the pot and mix into the caramel.
  5. Stir well and it will turn into a caramel coloured cookie dough.
  6. Roll the cookie dough into balls and flatten on a baking tray (either greased or lined with baking paper).
  7. Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden brown.

Science in the Kitchen (STEM)

  1. Gravity & Weight: When you’re using kitchen scales to measure out the butter, take a few moments to talk about why things have weight and why we weigh them. That butter would weigh about 20g on the Moon and about 315g on Jupiter.
  2. Solids, Liquids, Gas: It’s a good idea to have a grown up do the stirring with the caramel mixture as it gets very hot; keep young helpers interested by helping them to safely view the way the ingredients change. Ask them if the butter and sugar going into the pot are liquids or solids (the latter); then show them what happens when heat is applied (becomes liquid); as the mixture cools and is combined with the flour it’s state changes again (solid).
  3. Gassy Bubbles: Ask young helpers what’s different about the ingredients in this recipe. The answer is that it uses baking soda rather than baking soda. The baking soda causes small carbon dioxide gas bubbles in the cookie mix causing it to rise when it goes into the hot oven. Tip: Get the cookies in the oven quickly as the longer the mix is left at room temperature, the less the cookies will rise.
  4. Sweet Surprise: A great way to see baking soda in action is to make a candy version of these cookies. Have a go at making Hokey Pokey!

The Invisible Tasks of Food Allergy Parents

woman holding baby while sitting on fur bean bag

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The often invisible cognitive load of food allergy families involves both time and heartache.
 
It’s needing to educate staff at childcare or schooling facilities that although lunchbox items may look similar to what other kids eat that varied allergies and intolerances haven’t magically gone away.
 
There are hours spent at home and with medical support staff planning nutritional intake (and addressing deficits). Special allergy free brands are researched and sought (often involving a substantially higher cost and extra driving time to that one special location that stocks a particular item but nothing else on your allergy list – meaning multiple item specific trips). Hours can be spent researching not just allergy free recipes but in needing to substitute ingredient (x), is there a risk of cross-reactivity from ingredient (y), in which case do you start all over again looking at a different ingredient or consider ingredient (z) as a back up?
 
Then there’s the extra time spent milling special flours from scratch because it’s too expensive to buy them pre-milled when you’re juggling multiple allergies/intolerances. There’s the time spent cooking and pureeing fruits and vegetables (not to mention washing up afterwards) so that you can make your own customized smoothie pops or home baking that incorporates ‘safe’ foods and ‘safe’ textures. There is the time spent agonizing over whether to make one allergy free meal for everyone or to make multiple meals each night. There is needing to pack food every time you leave the house because you can’t buy anything safe and easy to eat when out.
 
There is the heart ache of seeing your child sad because their friends have foods that they can’t have; of needing to take a packed lunchbox every time there’s a shared food event at their education facility or church or playdate or birthday party etc… There is the anxiety over trusting food that someone else has made (especially when you find yourself having to quite literally pull that awesome looking food item out of your child’s hands because someone has rushed over in the realization that they gave you the wrong information). For those with anaphylaxis, there is the ongoing anxiety around epi-pens, emergency hospital visits, and the daily concern of how easy it would be for a fatal accident to occur.
There is the emotional distress of wanting your child to find joy in food and knowing that instead there may be an invisible ribbon of anxiety. There is the heart ache every time you have to deny your child something because it will simply make them sick. There’s also the challenge of trying to explain to them why the doctor’s want them to have a tiny little bit of something but only every now and then (i.e. once every four days) and why it’s not ok for them to have more or to eat it when they’re not specifically being given it by mummy or daddy (or whomever their primary carer is).
There is the extra anxiety and tears and restricted eating because someone said something thoughtless in front of them about their food and now they are scared to eat.
There is wanting to wrap them up in your arms; to have them know just how much they are loved and that you would put in these invisible hours for them a thousand times over to ease their way just a little bit.

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Miss 4 and I have been reading a series of picture books, the latest of which is “The Wolf who visited the land of Fairy Tales.” The wolf goes on a quest to collect a recipe and ingredients to make apple cake. The book has a recipe at the back which inspired me to invent our own version; it has more protein and added micro-nutrients than a traditional recipe. This is a light thin apple cake that reminds me a little of  Tarte Tatin.

If you have young children, this is great for school lunches. Alternatively, read the book during the school holidays (or anything that features baking, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ would work just as well) and then tie in the real world application with the story. Add in some dress-ups for acting out the story and that’s your morning filled!

Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Nuttelex (or dairy-free spread, or butter)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 fresh eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 Tbsp ground linseed
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice milk (or alternative)
  • 3 large apples, peeled and diced into small pieces.

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Grease the sides and bottom of a round cake tin.
  2. Cream the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugar. Add the beaten eggs and mix.
  3. Gently fold in the baking powder, flour, wheat germ, ground linseed, and ground cinnamon.
  4. Gently stir in the apple pieces and fresh ginger.
  5. Stir in a little rice milk until the batter is smooth.
  6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40 mins.

 

Alternatives

You can change the flavour profile in a variety of ways:

  • Add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice.
  • Switch fresh ginger for ground ginger for a milder ginger flavour.
  • Increase the cinnamon to 1 tsp and add 1/4 tsp all spice + pinch nutmeg.

If your child is adverse to the apple being in chunks, consider experimenting with stewed apple or apple sauce. Keep an eye on your dry/wet ratios as this will have an impact.

Scones with Extra Goodness: Autism Mom

Enriched scones

Enriched scones

Miss 3 has a range of food allergies, intolerances, and sensory issues with food. To my great surprise, these scones were a massive hit with her. She will eat two of them for breakfast (or lunch) and prefers them without any kind of topping. They are light, fluffy, and tasty with only minimal amounts of sugar (so much healthier than store bought cake).

Her soy allergy means I have to do all our baking myself and she is now intolerant to  drinking milk but seems to cope okay if it’s baked or altered by probiotics (like yoghurt). She needs lots of calcium for her growing bones which is why this recipe is packed with dairy. The wheat germ helps to provide added protein (and is also a secret ingredient for bread and baking to help provide a soft, fluffy feel). The spelt and rice flour can be replaced by normal flour but for me it’s part of overall measures to have her on (a) a reduced gluten diet, (b) to have her grains as varied as possible, (c) to introduce as wide a range of macro and micro nutrients to her diet as possible.  Sometimes with autistic kids it’s about reinforcing the goodness in what they will eat rather than despairing about what they won’t eat!

Ingredients

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups plain flour (strong flour also works)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2 Tbsp ground linseed (or LSA)
  • 6 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or maple syrup)

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 50-70g chilled butter
  • 1/2 cup (or 150g) natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1 cup water

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 200’C.
  • Sift the dry ingredients (the wheatgerm and linseed will mostly remain in the sifter and can then be poured in).
  • Grate in the chilled butter and rub the mixture till it resembles breadcrumbs.
    • Note: Grating is most important when making dumplings as the butter remains intact and melts during cooking; I do find it rubs in very quickly this way when making scones.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yoghurt. Mix gently.
  • Add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) and mix. Add a little water if necessary.
  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use hands to gently roll and pat the scones.
    • Note: I find it immensely helpful to have a little bowl of rice bran oil to dip my fingers in so that the mix doesn’t stick to my hands. It also allows for a smoother finish to the scones.
  • Bake for 10 minutes @ 200’C. Check the scones; bake for up to another 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool on a rack.

 

Variations

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Butterfly scones

Butterflies, stars, cars, dinosaurs – whatever interests your child! Large plastic cookie cutters (i.e. the size of an adult’s palm) make wonderfully shaped scones that can help make these more appealing.

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and Cream Cheese scones

Add 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and add wedges of firm cream cheese to the middle of the scone. (Miss 3 objected strongly to me combining ‘approved’ foods but I thought these were delicious!).

Feijoa Scones

Add 1/2 cup of thoroughly mashed feijoa pulp. Test the moisture / stickiness of the scones and add less milk if necessary.

Passionfruit Scones

Use passionfruit yoghurt (a good quality thick yoghurt like Puhoi or Piako). Consider drizzling passionfruit sauce or syrup on top.

Maple Syrup and Walnuts

Maple syrup has quite a mild taste so swap (and increase) the brown sugar for 5-6 Tbsp of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup crushed walnuts. Consider adding a coffee icing.

Note: (1) Potential for nut allergy. (2) Great for adults but may not be suitable for toddlers (due to choking risk). (3) May not suit ASD kids due to the textural contrasts.

 

Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).

Show love to your kids at Christmas (even when you’re exhausted)

Tantrums leading up to Christmas

I wrote recently about what it’s like parenting a child with autism at Christmas and I find myself continuing to reflect on the challenges different families experience at this time of the year. One of the topics under discussion in parenting forums this week is ‘Should children be punished for bad behaviour leading up for Chistmas?’, more specifically, should they be threatened that Santa is watching and won’t give them presents?

One side of the argument, is that children should be told that Santa (or a designated Elf on the Shelf) is watching and will punish children by leaving them a lump of coal (or a potato) in their Christmas stocking if they are naughty in December. Others suggest spending Christmas morning in bed and refusing to give out presents until 4pm (or a few days later) once children are suitably chastened. Some suggest that each time children are really naughty, a present is removed from under the tree and the child has to give it to charity.

My heart goes out to parents who are exhausted and struggling at the end of a long year, wishing for some much needed rest for themselves to recharge batteries, and all of the stress (logistical and financial) that planning Christmas involves. The reality, however, is that we need to constantly put on our superhero costumes, dig deep for forgotten reserves of energy, and remember that our tiny egotistical bundles of dark energy are exhausted children struggling with a see-saw of excitement, fear, change, and emotional confusion. They are also tired at the end of the year; they are tired from growing, from learning, from trying to keep their emotions in check, and they are likely to explode at home because that’s where they feel safe to do so. They are trusting us to love them unconditionally (even if it’s through gritted teeth).

Stop and have a think about what may be triggering your kids to explode. Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they eating a lot of ‘seasonal treats’? Are they excited about school holiday adventures but then lashing out at the end of the day (or the next day)?

School holidays mean that all of their usual structure has suddenly disappeared and that can be as frightening as it is exciting. Talk with them about what routines are going to stay in place (i.e. will television still be restricted to certain times of day, will bedtime still be at the same time, will parents still be working on certain days). Come up with a visual planning chart for the school holidays and talk with your kids about any planned activities, holidays, play dates, or family visits. Make a list of activities they can do at home (or cut them up in strips and have them pull them out of a hat).

Talk to them about any expectations you have: to spend time reading a book each day, do an art activity, spend time outside, and play quietly with toys? Some kids might feel more comfortable having their free time largely unstructured, while others may thrive on digital timers and structured activities for at least part of each day.

If you’re at home with the kids, take the opportunity to try changes to diet. Put them on a wholefoods diet as much as possible and avoid anything with artificial additives and preservatives (they have a cumulative effect in the body, especially in little bodies, and can have a big impact on behavior). Drink water and milk, eat lots of fresh fruit, make salads, do home baking. Ditch the muesli bars, chips, and cookies, and make smoothies, carrot cake, or flourless pancakes.  Help get the kids involved in meal planning, supermarket shopping, meal preparation, and gardening.

We spend eleven months of the year taking responsibility for our parenting decisions, lets not shift the blame to Santa just because Christmas is approaching. If you want to factor Santa into discussions with your kids then try shifting the discussion from a negative / blame framework to a positive one; instead of threatening coal, try saying something like ‘Mum and Dad and Santa can see how hard you’ve been working all year and it seems like you’re tired and struggling at the moment.” Talk with them about the things they like about themselves and feel they are doing well, and also about the things they feel are difficult. Praise them when they are doing things well.

Consider giving only a few small presents from Santa that they can play with before the main gifts are unwrapped. Maybe I’m selfish but I want my daughter to be thrilled that I’ve spent time saving up and planning her main present rather than thinking it’s magically appeared from Santa’s workshop! Knowing that their main presents have come from family reinforces an understanding of being loved.

Spend time in the lead up to Christmas talking about what it means to your family. In some parts of the world, it’s a time of beautiful lights, decorations, and fattening foods because the outside world is pitch black most of the day and covered in snow (which might look pretty on Christmas cards but is icy and cold most of the time). It’s a little bit different when Christmas is celebrated in the middle of summer with blue skies and sunshine! Even if you’re not celebrating the birth of Christ, talk about why you are giving gifts as a family. Talk about celebrating all the good things you have, the things you are grateful for, and the people that you love. Maybe you could make a gratitude jar, flower, or tree. Older kids might like to keep a gratitude journal for the holidays (bonus – it also helps them practice their writing!)

Step away from the commercial aspects of the holidays, help them to make their own Christmas cards, make Christmas crackers, and write letters to friends they’re going to miss over the holidays. Encourage them to think about others by choosing something they like to eat to donate to a food parcel collection, or by mowing the lawns for grandparents, or washing cars during church service.

Tell them every single day that you love them.

 

For more helpful strategies – consider attending a free Incredible Years Parenting Programme which provides useful strategies for play, praise, academic, social and emotional coaching, positive reinforcement, limit setting, natural and logical consequences, problem-solving and effective communication skills.

Coping with Christmas | Autism

Santa

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

If you’re the parent of  a special needs child and the thought of Christmas has you reaching for a glass of wine, don’t worry, not you’re alone! This time of year the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) parenting forums are full of questions, advice, and those needing a safe space to share that they’re struggling after yet another Christmas meltdown. It’s a tough time of year for many families and children; end of term / year fatigue from school, exams, financial stress, family obligations. Let’s face it, as awesome as Christmas is, it comes with special stress for those organizing it.

It also poses an extra stress on kids with autism. There is familiarity in comfort, routine, and the familiar. Christmas means change in the home, kindy / school, shopping malls, supermarkets etc. Suddenly there are decorations, Christmas music, and images of this guy in a red suit everywhere. There are crowds, noise, and other sensory evils (like balloons). There are also likely to be a slew of invitations to parties, parades, shared meals, family gatherings etc.

Find a quiet time before the Christmas season to reflect on what Christmas means to you personally, and to your family. You may want to have a family gathering where you talk about what Christmas means to you all and each choose one tradition that you think is really important. Obviously, the bigger your family is, the more negotiation this may involve! I think one advantage for me as a single parent is that I can unilaterally make the choice to put Miss 3’s needs first and miss out on a lot of the Christmas celebrations that I would otherwise enjoy. It’s not always so easy for those with conflicting demands from a partner or where there are neurotypical (NT) siblings who have events they want to be part of.

Christmas events

If your autistic child is old enough and verbal enough to discuss Christmas events with, involve them in planning which events to be part of and which events to skip (and always have a back up / escape plan that will let you leave early and keep your child’s self-respect intact).

Keep in mind that Christmas parades, parties, and concerts are not only a variation to routine but can involve huge amounts of sensory input. You might want to aim for a smaller, local events rather than the biggest one in the city centre where tens of thousands of people will attend resulting in roads and bus services being blocked / hugely disrupted.

Clearly identify the change in routine and pre-warn them. Show them photos of where you are going and what to expect. Consider creating a social story to help them understand the sequence of events and what will be expected of them.

If they have sensory issues, take along items that will help them feel more settled (whether that’s a weighted toy, a fidget toy, or noise-cancelling headphones).

Restrict the number of events that you attend. It’s easy for them to accumulate in the weeks leading up to Christmas; remember to include in your calculations any Christmas celebrations / pageants etc. at kindy / school, church, etc. as well.

Christmas countdown

For young children, you may want to start preparing them for Christmas as early as 01 Nov (depending on their age). I started introducing Christmas books and cds (from the library) early with Miss 3 to help her get comfortable with the concept before it started at kindy. I didn’t want her anxiety to be triggered or for her to feel excluded because the other kids knew who Santa was or recognized popular Christmas tunes and she didn’t.

I would have been quite happy to put up our miniature Christmas tree the week before Christmas; instead, it went up mid-November to ease her anxiety. They sang a song about Christmas trees at kindy and she started an anxiety attack that all the trees she loves outside kindy would be stolen and turned into Christmas trees; this transferred to a fear our Christmas tree would be stolen from storage. Long story short, we drove across town the next day to collect our tree from Nana and Poppa!

Think about a visual method for counting down to Christmas. You might want to do an advent calendar (some families do) , or download an app, or simply mark off days on a Calendar.

Christmas Presents

Most ASD kids do not like surprises; pre-warn! Here are some ideas from different parents:

  1. I discuss Christmas presents with my son and give him a budget. He researches what he wants and tells me. He knows exactly what he’s getting for Christmas and is happy that it’s exactly what he wants!
  2. I buy my daughter one present for Christmas. I tell her in advance what I’m saving up for and show her pictures. Santa gives her a few small items in her santa sack as unwrapped treats to eat (like chocolate and an orange).
  3. I wrap all the presents but for my autistic child, I attach photos of what’s inside. They still enjoy unwrapping them but they’re more comfortable knowing what’s in them. Their siblings have the choice of photos too.
  4. I take photos of everything before I wrap them and then let my daughter choose if she wants to open them as a surprise or point to items on my phone and then be handed the presents in that order.
  5. I’m getting my child a bunch of small practical gifts (like sensory items, or craft activities, or a sea shell to represent a beach visit) and am going to let them open one thing each day from when kindy ends. They’ll help to give us something to do each morning to cope with the change of routine and it will make Christmas Day less overwhelming.
  6. Remember to warn relatives if certain items are likely to cause sensory issues. You may want to ask them to pre-wash clothes and remove tags for instance.

 

Christmas Day

Wonderful and exciting though Christmas Day is, it can also be overwhelming and carry with it a range of expectations.

  1. Discuss in advance what the schedule will be for Christmas Day. Consider creating a social story  so that they know what the order of events will be. For instance, when do they open presents? When will meals be? What food will be served? Are family coming to visit? Are you driving to visit family?
  2. Identify correct etiquette for receiving a gift. Teach them to say Thank You. Explain rules and expectations; i.e. “Sometimes we receive presents we like. Sometimes we receive presents we don’t like. We should say thank you for each present we receive.”
  3. Give them a list of everyone they will see Christmas Day. Help them think about how they will greet each person. Do they want to give Grandma a hug? Do they want to just wave at that funny smelling Great Aunt they only see once a year? Make sure that extended family understand how important consent is (at any age) and that it is entirely up to your child if they want physical contact. Help your child to understand it is important to greet each person (with a wave, or eye contact and saying hello) but that it is up to them whether they want a hug / cuddle.
  4. Use a portable timer / clock / watch for visiting other people’s houses and make sure you leave at the time you have pre-agreed with your child (to avoid a meltdown). If necessary, have the family take two cars so that you can leave early if your ASD child isn’t coping.
  5. Make sure there is food they will enjoy eating on Christmas Day. It’s all very well wanting a traditional roast with all the trimmings, but if this is something your child won’t eat then don’t force the issue on a day that is already stressful for them! If they want to eat a plain cheese pizza, or seaweed and crackers, or a marmite sandwich + apple, then let them. Make sure they are included and have the option of trying other foods but have food they are comfortable with as well.