Obviously we want our loved ones to understand Christmas. This becomes more complicated when a person has limited communication abilities. It wasn’t very long ago that psychologists were insisting that it was impossible for people to understand anything significantly beyond their communication levels. Now doctors are admitting that people with limited communication skills often understand a great deal more than we realize.

My son loves the Christmas music and Christmas activities and presents, but it’s hard to know how much of the story he actually understands. Having him sit down and listen to a Christmas sermon is definitely not an appropriate teaching strategy.

When teaching individuals like my son — whose conversations never leave the topics of food and places to go — it is really useful to use concrete teaching resources. Can the person identify different pictures relating to the Christmas story? Can they put them in order? If the person holds up the pictures in order as you read the Christmas story, then they clearly are understanding a significant part of what you’re reading.

Acting out the Christmas story works well for my son. He is able to be active and to focus on the concrete elements of the story. A life-size doll makes a good representative for the baby. My son gets nervous around animals, but this is easily solved by having people play the animal parts.

It’s also possible to act out the Christmas story with the pieces from a manger scene. My son has to be constantly reminded to handle things gently, but this type of reenactment can help him learn the characters and events that make up the Christmas story. I want to focus on the physical aspects of the story since the significance of the events is a more abstract conversation.

I hope that many of you have gone much farther than I with this. Maybe your loved one clearly understands the physical events and characters in the story and you are trying to communicate more of the spiritual significance.

A little creativity and some planning ahead can help anyone better understand the story of Christmas. Whatever your situation, I pray that this will be a blessed Christmas season for you and your loved ones.


Hugh Rutledge is the father of a son who has autism. Hugh is a textbook editor, a former missionary to Africa and Asia, and a Sooner football fan. Hugh and his wife and son life in Waltham, Massachusetts.