Christina is 14 years old and she has a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome, and she is verbal and makes her wants and needs known. But Christmas can still be a tricky time for her family. Christina’s mum, Karen, who also works in the KIDS Camden Home Learning team, writes about why Christmas is the hardest time of the year and why planning ahead is important.

Challenges to the transitions at Christmas

Any transition or change is hard and can result in resistant behaviours, and Christmas time is one of the hardest.  There is more and stronger lighting, schedules and routines change and the bigger crowds are all things that add to this being a challenging time of the year.

We struggle going to family or friends Christmas events as Christina can’t cope with the change of environment, loud noise and this means we normally leave 20 minutes after we arrive because it gets too much for her. So I hold a gathering now and Christina is able to absent herself to her own space when she feel like it.

Celebrating a successful visit to Father Christmas and Pantomime

Last year was the first year we had a successful visit to a Father Christmas grotto. This was such an achievement for both of us as we had to queue but we had a lot of space so she could “rest” on the floor and she loved the animatronics and a land train to ride on.  What made it work so well was the staff, who were very understanding and accommodating to her needs.

Another triumph last year was our yearly visit to the Pantomime. Christina has been going to panto at Christmas since she was five years old.  I spent many visits crying in the foyer and leaving after 15 minutes. Now we have a strategy for Christina to cope; one of them is buy the last four  seats in front row of dress circle and she sits between us .Last year she successfully sat through and participated for the whole show with only 3 short breaks away from our seats.

Christina loves opening presents now but this activity until recent years used to totally overwhelm her and she would hide under a box or blanket. Her idea of playing is opening the gift looking at it and putting it into a bag then later sorting out that bag into another bag. She has no distinction between a small box of button or bows or an expensive item - they are all treated the same.

Christmas is still a magical time for us; but rather than worry about what we are eating or buying we just need to plan ahead and think more about coping strategies the whole family.