See this beautiful girl putting up our Christmas tree?!?!

This is the same girl who left her presents unwrapped and untouched under the tree on Christmas morning. This is the same girl who refused to sing Christmas carols. This is the same girl who melted down or hid in her room at our big family gatherings. This is the same girl who didn’t understand Santa.

Her excitement for Christmas didn’t change overnight. Progress is made with small steps over a long period of time. 

-We put present opening in her therapy goals. We wrapped up her favorite toys and taught her the joy of ripping off paper to find something you love beneath the paper.

-We sang her favorite Dora the Explorer theme song together in addition Christmas songs to make sure she knew her interests were important too.

-We bought/made ornaments of the things she loved, so she would play with them and eventually place them on the tree.

-We shared the story of the birth of Jesus using a manger scene she could play with and took her to a live manger scene where she could pet the animals. 

-We watched videos about Santa.

We did this over and over, year after year, and guess what?! Each year, she seemed to understand a little more. Then she began to participate, and then these traditions began to bring her joy. 

Now, she is the one who insists we put the tree up on Thanksgiving Day while playing Christmas music. She is the one who takes more time than anyone I know to come up with thoughtful gifts for family and friends. She is the one who wraps ALL of my presents. She is the one who wants to read the Christmas story before we open presents.

Just because your child shows no interest in your holiday family traditions now, doesn’t mean he won’t forever. Start now. Start slow. Build every year. Integrate his current interests. Make him feel loved and seen and important in the midst of “your stuff.”

I was once told that anything you want to accomplish with a child with autism, you should start FIVE years in advance because our kids learn though repetition. I have found this to be true for my daughter, and holiday fun is no exception.
Julie Hornok is an award-winning author, inspirational speaker, and advocate for autism. She started the non-profit, United in Autism, to bring hope to autism moms through emotional support events. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum (foreword by Temple Grandin) is available at or Amazon. Join her United in Autism Facebook Community for daily support.