Thursday, December 3, 2009

The CHRISTmasTree Dilemma

A parent on an autism-related internet chat group posed the question about how to have a CHRISTmas tree when you have a child with autism who is a good climber and who can't leave the ornaments alone.

I'll tell you what I've done.

First, I had to give up the expectation of having a CHRISTmas tree that looks as if it came straight from a picture in a magazine. Second, I had to pack away anything breakable and think outside the box. Third, the sibs have a tiny tree for their room to decorate.

There's a lot to consider. Small parts, parts that are easily broken or removed are a hazard. Use my ideas at your own risk -- please take into account the challenges of your own child and make decisions based upon your own needs. I can share with you the things I have done.

Here's my approach: I look for soft, unbreakable ornaments and let the kids have their way with our tree. We had quite a few years where the only part of the tree that was decorated was the part that the children could reach, which means the bottom fourth of the tree. Yes, it looked bizarre and extremely bottom heavy a teensy bit asymmetrical, but it worked. If you have a child with little-to-no impulse control who wants to touch the tree all the time, use fewer decorations rather than more, and keep them low on the tree. Decorating the tree together, enjoying it, admiring our hard work, spotlighting the "we-did-it!"relationship aspect, the "meaning making" is more important than the finished product.

Jingle bells and little pillows don't shatter. If I remember correctly, the red, oversided jingle bells in the photo below came from Target and the tasseled pillows came from Sears. I did not use bells until recently -- some bells are too small for little ones and all jingle bells contain a small part inside. Jingle bells are not a good option for some families.

We have a collection of stuffed animals that can double as ornaments. My mother bought them for us. She's brilliant. She reasoned that if a stuffed animal is safe enough for play, then it's safe enough for the tree. Raccoons, squirrels, Beanie Babies-sized animal creatures dressed in Santa hats, red-and-white striped scarves were perfect when my children were little. We had a few holiday Barneys and Baby Bops, too (which I detest, but the kids liked them). I could have sewn a ribbon onto our Beanie Babies and added them to the tree (I didn't think of it at the time).

I have some ball-shaped ornaments that are Styrofoam inside and look decoupaged on the outside. (The ball-shaped ornaments that are made of silky thread wrapped around and around a Styrofoam center are an absolute M.E.S.S. if they begin to come unwound, and I pitched every one of those ornaments in the trash.) Some of my "decoupaged" ornaments came from an Old Time Pottery many years ago and some came from Target in recent years.

Ribbons are better for hanging than wire. Get rid of wire hangers.

I thought bows would be a good choice -- I was wrong. A bow doesn't shatter if it drops, but it loses its shape very easily and I had trouble hanging them on the tree without accidentally untying them. Don't waste your money on bows.

Teeny stockings are festive on the tree and are soft, too. They are often left over on clearance aisles after Christmas at a good mark-down. You can find them at most discount stores.

Handmade felt ornaments allowed me the flexibility to add longer ribbons for hanging. Little hands can move these ornaments around more easily than ornaments with skimpy ribbons. I bought felt, ribbon, batting and embroidery thread and whipped up some pretty ornaments that the children can move around. I found packages of sparkly felt at Wal-Mart one year and used stencils to make stars, hearts, and bells. The downside of handmade fabric and felt ornaments is that Mom must make them in time for CHRISTmas. I kept my fabric, thread, ribbon, needle & thread in a plastic shoebox and took it to waiting rooms. I could work on ornaments all year when my daughter was in occupational therapy.

After Christmas, I made a habit of cruising around the decoration mark-downs, and scored lots of felt and fabric ornaments, some crocheted ornaments, and some teddy bears. Sears, K-Mart, Peebles, Dillard's, Macy's and Kohl's have quite a variety. I love a bargain! And every November, when we bring out the decorations, we always have a surprise when we discover what I found on clearance at the end of the previous season.

We have more ornaments on the tree now than in past years, and some ornaments actually make it to the top of the tree. ;) We still stick to soft and hard-to-break ornaments. Here are some of the ones I found on clearance after a holiday:

I bought a couple of packages of plastic snowflakes.

As my children discover talents and develop unique interests, I want the tree to reflect that:

I am a Christian, and I want my CHRISTmas tree to reflect that. We have lots of star-shaped ornaments on our tree, ornaments shaped into words like "GRACE" and "JOY". Kohl's sells individual letters that look like sugar cookies, which are great for spelling names.

At a craft store, I purchased wood cut-outs made to paint and decorate. Most of them are quite smooth, but be sure to check them for potential splinters. Rainy days in the summer are GREAT for painting CHRISTmas decorations! The kids made an adorable stable scene at church one year.

Resin ornaments are sturdy.

One2Believe makes a toy nativity set. The TOS Crew was privileged to review it last year.

That's all I can remember to put in this blog post at this point. I hope I've given a reader or two some ideas for brainstorming and troubleshooting. Please share with me your ideas and successes!

I hope you have as much fun decorating your tree as we do decorating ours.
Merry CHRISTmas!

1 comment:

Marie said...

Thanks for sharing all these ideas. Jack is really just getting into Christmas trees this year so we'll have to see how he does. Should be fun....

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