Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas Gifts for Distracted People

Do you love someone with ADD or ADHD?  If you do, you know the greatest gifts you can give them are your time, patience and understanding.  But you can also help them learn coping skills and organizational skills that can improve their daily lives tremendously.

The key to gift giving to someone who has neurological differences is to do this it with love and acceptance, as well as appreciation for their gifts and unique and positive qualities.  If you are a person who gives lots of unsolicited advice, then don’t give them one of these presents.  It will come off as patronizing.  Give them something lovely and meaningful, instead.

But if you are someone he or she turns to for support, one of these presents may be welcome.

This post is part of a longer article I posted last year: A Merry ADHD Christmas.

Presents That Show You Care and Understand

  • A month-at-a-glance calendar with blocks big enough to write in plenty of notes and appointments.  If the calendar or planner is for a woman, make sure it will fit in her purse.
  • A mini-recorder (maybe for a keychain) so the person can record where he parked the car.
  • A fun fidget for their purse, backpack or keychain: check out Tangle.
  • A GPS system to keep them from getting lost in the car.
  • Watches with easy-to-read faces are a good gift. You can’t have too many watches.
  • A digital camera for recording events.  People with ADHD tend to be visual learners.
  • Those lavender scented heavy pads for shoulders.
  • Massagers.
  • Timers to remind them to take the cookies out of the oven, or to take a break.
  • A relaxing music CD, such as classical music or instrumental jazz.
  • ADHD self-help books.
  • Nice pens and notepads for making lists.  Post-it notes.
  • Bubbles are relaxing for children, because it requires slow breathing.
  • Thank you notes or other stationery, with custom printed return address labels and stamps.
  • A tiny zen rock garden.
  • An artificial plant (you don’t have to remember to water them).
  • Key organizer (to mount by the front door)
  • Desk organizers
  • Closet organizers
  • Cosmetic bags and jewelry organizers
  • Ornaments organizers
  • Checkbook organizer and budgeting tools.
  • Write on/wipe off calendars and white boards
  • First aid kits, car emergency kits

How to put lights on your Christmas Tree

If you are anything like me, you struggle with getting the lights just right! My tree looks like this: way too many lights near the top, too many clumped together, not enough lights. Usually, a more spatially aware friend takes pity on me and helps me do it evenly, and the results are so beautiful. Once I accepted that more lights really were needed, I had a prettier tree.

My tips are

  1. Play some Christmas music — I love the Charlie Brown Christmas album for this!
  2. White lights or colored lights? It’s hard to pick. Why not both? One year, I did both. The effect was beautiful! I had the color I wanted, but the brightness from the clear lights. Some years, I do color lights when I am going for a more colorful tree. Last year, I left the colorful ornaments in the box and did an all silver and gold tree, with fewer ornaments but lots of lights.
  3. Don’t rush it. Go slowly and you will get better results. If you have to, start over.
  4. Enlist a friend…or help unravel the cords, circle the tree and drape the tree with lights. It really helps to have the extra hands.
  5. Tuck, tuck, tuck those lights in — some deep and some closer to the edges of the branches, so you have that nice “depth” effect.
  6. Strategically position some of the ornaments near light sources, especially if they have glitter on them.
  7. Stop and take some pictures of you and your family decorating the tree, as you do it. You’ll be so glad to have these to look at later!

Here are some tips from the experts…

First, the lights. You will need 100 lights per foot of tree.

Secondly, some of those light strings contain lead. It will probably say so, on the box.  So wear plastic gloves to protect your hands, and wash your hands afterwards and before eating anything (like Christmas cookies!), so you don’t accidentally contaminate yourself.

Now for the decorating…

From what I’ve observed on YouTube, you can approach this a number of ways.  Some people start by wrapping the trunk with a string of lights. Some people weave the lights up and down around the tree, and others wrap each individual branch, starting at the trunk and working outward.

Here are some videos that demonstrate those techniques…

Here’s the “wrap each branch” technique from Colonial Wiliamsburg…

And here’s the “weave around the tree” approach from Home Depot…

How do you put up your Christmas tree lights?

Celebrating the Holidays When You Love Someone With Autism

For someone who lives with autism, and the people who love him or her, the holidays can be delightful or dreadful.  There are changes of routine and sensory issues that can be hard to take.  Keeping to a routine, using visual helpers, offering choices, enjoying short and simple activities you do together, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, and slowing down the hectic pace of the holidays are some of the ways you can make the holidays easier for you and the one you love with autism.  Here are some ways you can help someone with autism enjoy the holidays.

Holiday Visual Helpers

Visual helpers, like picture cards and schedules, help the person with autism organize their day, and understand activities have been completed and what is coming up next.  They are a great way to build competency by playing on a strength that tends to be strong in individuals with autism (visual processing, visual memory).

Here are some resources for free, printable visual helpers for the holidays…just laminate the cards, attach some velcro, and you’re ready to schedule!

Sensory-Friendly Holiday Activities

When you have a person with autism with you, you generally may want to select activities that (1) they will find engaging and (2) that you can duck out of quickly, in case of sensory over-stimulation or melt-downs.  A lot of free Christmas activities fit the bill, such as open-air or open-seating concerts, where you don’t have to stay for the whole event.  As a parent, I just think it’s nice to go to part of something and enjoy it, rather than force my child to sit through an entire event and hate it.  I have also found that his tolerance builds up over time, so I think this approach has worked well.

Here is an article reviewing several annual events and  Christmas Activities in the Washington, DC area that my son and I have enjoyed (please double-check the dates, which change from year to year).

Coping with Family and Related Holiday Issues

I don’t know a family with autism that hasn’t struggled in some way with family and friends issues, primarily with acceptance.  This can be very hard at Christmas, particularly in the early years.  I feel it does get better with time, and I have developed new traditions that have made Christmas special to me again.  It is true that when you have a child with autism, your world can become smaller, and you can feel lonely, but the people who you come to count on become that much more dear to you.

Cathy Knoll, MA, MT-BC has a wealth of suggestions for dealing with extended family, sensory issues, gifts, holiday meals, and other autism issues that are unique to the Christmas season. Check out her holiday-related FAQautism blog posts and podcast episodes here.

Altering Holiday Routines


For Christmas shopping, keep shopping excursions, short, targeted, and fun.  People with autism like things to be predictable.  Leisurely browsing for just the right gift doesn’t work; shopping with a list of three specific things to pick up from one store (during an off time) is a much better plan.

You know when your child is ready for a shopping trip.  Only go when you are both well-rested and in a good mood.  As with any excursion, it helps if you have in mind that if you have to cut things short and go home, that will be okay with you (so don’t leave things until the last minute).

Pick small and familiar, individual stores instead of huge shopping malls, or go on off-peak times, like Tuesday nights.  A crowded Saturday at the mall is not a good choice for a child with autism.  Neither is Wal-Mart.  Instead of going to Home Depot, you can go to a smaller hardware store.  Or try a museum gift shop for most of your gifts.  Keep it simple, and work in breaks for water and looking at elevators 🙂 and other special interests.

For activities like cookie baking or tree trimming, bring your child in for the last part of the process, if his or her attention tends to stray.  For example, frost and decorate together a dozen cookies you have pre-baked.  Or get a small tree and let them hang a few ornaments.

Church Services

Many churches offer alternative holiday services that are less crowded, or especially designed for children during the holidays.  For example, you can attend Vespers on the afternoon of Christmas Day instead of a late Christmas Eve mass.


Don’t overwhelm a child wih autism with loads of presents.  He or she may need to open presents over a period of time, even days, if it appears overwhelming.  In my house, my child receives three presents from Santa (just as the baby Jesus got three presents from the Wise Men), plus a stocking, and that works for him.  He gets more presents from relatives, but he literally takes weeks to open them all, because it is just too much stimulation for him.

How to Decorate a Christmas Wreath (Video)

Kim Beck, one of the visual merchandisers at Christmas Town, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, demonstrates how to decorate a wreath for Christmas in this short video. I liked her idea to use two different patterns of ribbon! I hope it inspires you to decorate your own wreath this Christmas.

For more inspiration, visit

Yule Laugh! Pets Sing Jingle Bells

It’s the first day of December!  Just 25 days until Christmas!

To get us in the holiday spirit, let’s get started with some animals singing “Jingle Bells” because how much fun is that?