Snug Vest

Christmas Tree for an Autism Friendly Winter Holiday

Christmas time is almost here!  Finally, you have some time off from your hectic work schedule; there is an abundance of Christmas jingles on the radio and in the malls, and colorful lights as far as the eye can see.  Sounds lovely! But to anyone with a child on the spectrum, for them this may instead translate to an unwanted change in regular scheduling, constant loud noises and an inundation of bright fluorescent lights.  This amounts to sensory overload coming in from all angles, coupled with a lack of routine and absence of predictability.  As the countdown gets closer to Christmas and New Year’s, you might feel like you need to ask Santa for an extra dose of patience and luck to get you through this holiday season.  Here are a few useful tips and tricks for an autism friendly winter holiday!

Make a schedule for the holidays that's not too heavily packed

With school out, routines can become all out of whack.  This usually does not bode well for children with autism.  Predictability is something that an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) heavily relies on and makes them feel comfortable.  Try to create a schedule along with them to keep some sense of order.  Brainstorm a few choices for each activity and suggest it to them to so that you are working together in order to create a schedule most well-suited for your family.  That being said, Christmas time can involve a lot of jam-packed schedules that even the average person may get tired from.  Make sure to keep some activities low-key without the stress of meeting new people or being in a new environment.

Christmas Holiday Schedule for Children with Autism

Try to maintain an environment suitable to your child’s sensory needs

Christmas decorations range from a simple Christmas tree by the fireplace to being that neighbor on your street with the flashing fluorescent lights and eerie robotic Santa repeatedly singing “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!” on a loop.  Understand your child’s sensory needs, and manage your surroundings accordingly.  They may not be as concerned about all of the decorations as you are and that is okay.  Christmas time can be just as beautiful with or without a house filled to the brim in red and white decorations.  When going to places such as the mall, especially during Christmas sale bonanzas, keep in mind the level of sensory input that your child is comfortable with and make sure they can handle it before going out.  Big crowds and loud noises are not for everyone.

Autism Sensory Overload Christmas House

Involve them with the festivities as much as you can

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, try to involve them in the process of Christmas festivities.  Slowly and gradually is the way to go.  Just like Halloween and Thanksgiving, preparation for people with autism does wonders.  Talk about the events of Christmas beforehand; explain what the holiday is about and the etiquette associated with it.  Have your child help put up some ornaments or play with some cookie dough as you bake.  Little things like these can be fun and also help gauge whether they are interested in participating further in things Christmas related. 

 Autistic children playing with cookie dough at Christmas

If you are on vacation, pick an autism-friendly spot

Picking an appropriate vacation spot when you have a family member with special needs requires a lot of research.  A lot.  Even with all the research in the world, things may not go according to plan.  You have to take into account numerous factors, one of the most important if not the most, is the staff.  In autism friendly family resorts, staff are educated on the various types of customers that may arrive at their establishments.  They should be aware of the sensory issues that can trigger meltdowns and even have daycare facilities that you can fully trust to watch your child for an afternoon.  Small things like being open to making a slight change in the menu or listening to a request to turn down the volume of live music can be life savers when on vacation.  An understanding staff goes a long way.  In addition, these resorts are often pet-friendly and have many nature related activities such as horse riding or dolphin swimming that are great for children with ASD.

Horse Riding Therapy Activity for Children with Autism

Understand that your child is experiencing everything, but not necessarily as how you would

There is a chance that even with all of the preparation and prodding, they still may not be as enthusiastic about this winter holiday as you are.  Be that as it may, they are certain to be experiencing the holidays in their own way, even if it is hard to read on their faces.   An Autism Spectrum Disorder person's experience of the Christmas holidays is so vastly different from a neurotypical person that it would be unfair to put our expectations onto them.  Freeing yourself of expectations allows you to accept and enjoy the holidays as they are, for you and your family.  Enjoy!

 Merry Christmas GIF for Autism Families


If you liked this article, check out these:

I Have Autism and I Need Your Help: Labels
What is Tactile Dysfunction?
Autism and Bullying: What Can We Do?

Written by Ryan Leung — November 23, 2015

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