Getting ready for Christmas

Christmas was just days away. For many, it wasn’t soon enough.

Years ago, Christmas decorations wouldn’t appear until Thanksgiving time.

Now, the stores want to encourage shoppers to buy Christmas gifts as early as September.

That was fine with the teacher.

Early symbols helped her students prepare for the holidays coming up. However seeing decorations too early can pose a problem for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The sudden appearance of Christmas decorations along with the other holiday items such as Halloween in September often becomes very confusing.

The challenge for many ASD children is trying to understand time. Months and days are usually a very abstract concept for a child.

In the teacher’s classroom, the students work on learning what day, month and date it is every single day. For those children that can read, they are able to identify a season or day by its letters. Still Wednesday or March really means nothing to them.

Pictures help children better understand a month.

For example, an icon of a heart for February or a pumpkin for October is something concrete to them.

When the children see a Christmas tree on the month of September, they get excited. They know that the month of December includes decorating Christmas trees, getting presents and seeing Santa Clause.

Christmas is a great time to work on the calendar.

The teacher used decorations to help the children understand what events would be going on throughout the year. Her Christmas ornaments typically came out after Halloween. She would simply mix them in with the Thanksgiving decorations.

The teacher recognized that having similar visuals in the classroom as the community helped the children adjust to the upcoming changes. Christmas was one of those times of year that the children loved. So there was no better time than December to help the children learn about dates, days and months.

Several different objects were scattered throughout the classroom to remind the children about the Christmas season. She had a small Christmas tree fully decorated by the students sitting in the center of the room.

There was also a fun moving Christmas tree that would sing “Walking around the Christmas Tree.” That wasn’t the only singing item in her room. She also had a reindeer that sang the classic song, “Rudolph the Red Nose Reign deer.”

A small ethnic Santa was also included in the Christmas decorations. The children loved to hear him sing “Feliz Navidad” over and over. Then of course there was a seven foot blow up Texan Santa Claus who reaffirmed the children on how big the man had to be.

One of the favorite annual classroom activities for Christmas was looking through the Christmas toy catalogues. The children would choose items in the pamphlets to let Santa know what they wanted for the holidays.

It also gave the teacher a good idea of what to buy her students too.

The Christmas singing toys and special Christmas movies helped several children better adjust to the holiday season. One of the favorite movies has always been National Geographic’s “Animal Holidays”. The movies and singing Christmas toys helped the children adjust to the many changes.

Over several weeks, lots of Christmas activities occurred in the classroom. Wrapping presents, decorating the Christmas tree, making pattern holiday rings to decorate the room all built up to the actual day.

By the end of the year, the children were always well prepared for the annual family Christmas party and of course for the “real” Santa Clause’s visit to the classroom.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at downpamg@aol.com.