Autism + Christmas = Nightmare

merry christmas sign

Let’s get something out of the way up front.

Autism and Christmas don’t mix.  (Tweet this.)

For so long I dreaded the holiday because of the stress it brought to our house. From the week prior to Thanksgiving until January 1, the tension in our home was through the roof. The screaming and tantrums were non-stop. I was covered head to toe in bruises.

Candy for Christmas Wallpaper

Looking back, I marvel at how we survived in the beginning when the twins were severe. Christmas was a nightmare for them when they were small.

After the first few years (they showed autistic symptoms as infants), we learned that we had to open our gifts without them because they screamed and banged their heads during the ceremony. For this idealistic mother who worked toward and longed for a Walton-family-style Christmas, this was devastating.


But the fact is, Christmas meant nothing to the twins but scary unpredictable change. Kids with autism long for sameness. It’s how they keep fear at bay. The fact that there was a tree–that belonged OUTSIDE– standing in the living room completely freaked them out.


Not to mention the people unwrapping the very gifts that for weeks they’d been told to leave alone. And then there’s the color red. There’s so much red.


Frankly, Christmas simply made no sense. And some of our traditions are kind of silly when you think about it. But that’s part of the “hidden curriculum” that people with autism struggle with. All those unwritten social rules that those of us without autism just “get.”


Thank God the twins eventually grew to accept Christmas and trees standing inside houses and fat guys in red suits.

Now, they are 18 and I’m happy to say that it’s a holiday they enjoy and look forward to. Christmas is still the most stressful time for them, and they do have more conflicts with us and their siblings (all adults now) during this time of the year. But it’s soooo much better than it used to be. They even look forward to watching their nieces open their gifts.


If you have a relative with a child with autism, don’t judge them. Be patient and offer to help. Give them hope. It can get better. And most likely it will. My guys who used to be self-injurious head bangers and biters (of themselves and each other) no longer hurt themselves this way at Christmas. Now they put themselves to bed early on Christmas Eve so they can get up early the next day.

And instead of screaming there are squeals.



There’s not a more pure spirit of Christmas than a soul with special needs grinning ear to ear after opening a simple gift. Even if its socks, the twins are thrilled. (And there’s always socks. It’s a tradition in our house.)

Really, when you think about it, every day that’s a good day with autism is like Christmas. I’m thankful we’re having more of those these days than we used to.

Here’s hoping you do, too.

14All images via Bing search of free use images.

Comments 6

  1. Pingback: Happy vintage Christmas! | Karla Akins

  2. Thank you for posting this. My 10 year old is fraying at this ends. I woke up this morning so thankful there are only 3 more sleeps before all this chaos is over. The lights and noises are overwhelming. He can’t sleep. He started doing the hand flapping and clicking again. We have outgrown the huge tantrums. I’m thankful for that. Christmas has always been overwhelming, for everyone. I don’t think other people get that for us it’s not enjoyable. I have spent a month trying to contain the craziness. Three more sleeps and we will be back to our routine. He is very excited to open HIS presents. Thank you again for sharing.

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  3. Holidays is a time for family gatherings, time of peace and love, and showing compassion to others. But this can also be incredibly stressful for parents and families of children with autism. However, with some good planning, this will likely never be stress-free, but they can be more manageable.

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      But if autism has taught me one thing it’s that you have to have many more plans than just one plan. You have to have A to Z plans because unpredictability is the norm. Every parent I’ve met who has children with autism have been great planners and “copers.” Bottom line. This is just plain hard. Here’s to January 1!

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