Things to Think About When Decorating for the Holidays

Posted by Bonnie Arnwine on Nov 19th 2019

A few years ago a therapist shared a story with us about a young man at a group home that kept attacking the Christmas tree. Every day he would try to push down the tree. Everyone was very upset with his disruptive behavior to they called in a specialist to help.

When the behaviorist arrived he started asking questions about the home, the young man's routine, and the furniture. He learned that the staff had moved one of the living rooms chairs to make room for the Christmas tree. He also found out that this young man had a routine of coming home and sitting in the chair while looking out the window.

When the behaviorist asked the staff to move the tree and put the chair back they were reluctant because they thought the room wouldn’t “look good”. Reluctantly they put the chair back and moved the tree. As soon as they put the chair back the young man walked over and sat down in the chair and never attacked the tree again.

While decorating the staff had inadvertently disrupted the young man's home and his routine. For individuals on the spectrum change can be challenging. While many of us enjoy decorating for the holidays, it's important to remember the real goal of decorating is to create a festive atmosphere that everyone can enjoy.

With this story in mind remember:
No decoration is worth disrupting a comforting routine.

Ask yourself who’s home is it? Decorations are for occupants to enjoy. If a decoration is disruptive it isn’t serving its true purpose.

If possible allow your family member to pick some of the decorations and put them up. Being a part of the process allows them to prepare for the holidays and “own” the new look.

Pick out a decoration of the day. Add decorations gradually as a way to prepare for the holidays. If this works particularly well then you may want to slowly take down decorations to help everyone transition out of holiday mode.

Remember too much sensory stimulation can make it much easier for your family member to experience overstimulation and stress. Years ago a customer shared another story about a Christmas tree. She bought a set of tree lights that had several different blinking modes. She quickly found out that the best mode was the one with no flickering or dancing lights. Her son just needed them on or off.

Do you have a holiday decorating tip? Reply to this email and share it with us.