Christmas with the Non-Verbal, Autistic, Sensory-Sensitive Child

I know holidays are a stressful time for many people. Holidays for me are usually very low stress and very high fun! We’re doing our best to have that be true for our kids too. Jordan’s the tricky one, because we have to communicate his needs to people who don’t have the benefit of living with him every day. And it’s important. Not only to help him be happy, but because when he’s unhappy he doesn’t eat or sleep. Muy mal.

Happy in his jammies, getting some sensory input via his teeth.

Here’s the email I sent to my parents. I thought other special needs parents might find this interesting:


Jordan loves people and interaction in good for him. But if he gets overwhelmed and overtired, it is not fun. Hysterical, out of control laughing is a good sign that he’s overextended. On a good day at home, he reaches that point with zero additional stimulation by about 3pm. :-/.

Here are activities with him in order of stimulation (and yes, each is a step that he notices):
Playing alone
Playing near somebody
Playing with somebody
Being on somebody’s lap
Face to face time
Tickles and silly time
We’d like Christmas to be as low key as possible for Jordan. I’m not saying that he needs to be completely ignored, I just wanted to request that you keep this all in the back of your mind while we spend time together over the holidays. (You know, shortening play times with him and letting him wander around on his own now and then to calm down) You both are already good at this, but I wanted to be especially careful with Jordan over the holidays!

Love you,

Rachel and Brian”

By the way – I am anticipating entering a more intensive attachment parenting mode with Jordan soon. That combined with teaching Jordan proper personal boundries is going to mean less play-time with Jordan. This is a forewarning… I know it’ll be hard on all of the extended family and will feel forced, but it’s important! Love you, everybody!

Here’s the email I sent to a good friend with kids who get to visit us. (SOoooooo excited, Hollie! Nobody get too sick on us, ok?)

Because you are sensitive to these things, I thought I’d give you the run-down.

For kids:
Jordan is a sensory-seeking child. We don’t have to be quiet for him. However, screeching sounds seem to scare him. So no screeching! haha
Pay attention to his signals and if he backs away or makes sad faces, back off and leave him more alone.
Jordan does get overwhelmed with chaos… I know… he seeks stimulus, but struggles with chaos. So everybody going wild = not good. Not good for his mom either.

For adults:

Jordan is unattached. He sees us as caregivers and he will see you as potential caregivers or playmates. This is ok with us and you can interact with him without attachment restrictions. (We do not currently have any rules in place regarding attachment or “appropriate” behavior. That is something he is just getting mobile and cognitively able to understand.)
He plays “catch” (throwing things back and forth), peek a boo, imitate what I do, and tickle. Let’s avoid the tickle, though. The best interaction with him is calm and intentional.

These letters may seem contradictory. One says reduce overstimulation and one says he seeks stimulation. Both are true. It’s hard to explain and put him into a box. He is a person with all those complexities of emotion and environment. In general, social and interpersonal interactions are the most stressful. That’s why interacting with kids is not as big a deal for him as adults. They don’t seek out eye contact or touch the same way adults do. Also, when my parents come over, it will be just our kids here… and when my friends come, there will be ten kids here total. Wait. Eleven. Whatever it is, the environment is totally different. I’m done trying to figure it out now!

1 Comment

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One Response to Christmas with the Non-Verbal, Autistic, Sensory-Sensitive Child

  1. Melissa

    I like getting to read this too! It feels good to have any kind of insight into not only Jordan himself, but also the ways that you are raising him — because it is not always obvious to me how we can support you in that. When you make the changes you briefly referred to, will you give us a similar letter?? Have such a nice head’s up might help our visits and relationships with the little guy be all that much better for him, for you all!
    PS wonder what your Christmas letter might look like next year, and 5 years from now?? (you know, as Jordan grows!) 🙂

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