4 Tips for Holiday Gatherings for Children with Autism

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. It is also a time of crowds, bright lights, loud music, and rushed activities. For children with autism, this presents a unique set of challenges due to sensory sensitivities, changes in routine, and social expectations.

Preparing for and navigating through holiday gatherings requires a thoughtful approach to ensure the comfort and enjoyment of your autistic child, and, as a result, your whole family. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the approaching holidays, take a look at these tips to make the holiday festivities seem a little less impossible.

  1. Prepare Your Child For Each Event

Prior to each event, share as much information as possible with your child about what they can expect. Tell them the people they will see, the activities that might be available, and the place where it will be. As you do this, utilize visual aids like pictures or social stories. This can make the event become much more clear in your child’s head, and help alleviate some anxiety.

While there, strive to maintain your child’s routine as much as possible. Of course, the holidays always allow for some wiggle room, but having parts of their usual routine they can depend on can make them feel more secure and more able to participate in the holiday experiences.

  1. Create a Safe Space for Your Child

Holiday gatherings tend to be highly overstimulating and overwhelming for children with autism. While you should still make every effort to attend the events you’d like to for you and your family, it is also important to find a space to which your child can quietly retreat. Having some sensory tools or favorite toys on hand can make the space even more comforting and familiar.

As you attend these holiday festivities, be especially mindful of potential sensory sensitivities. Consider having noise-canceling headphones in your bag for loud music or places in mind to escape bright lights or crowds. This can create a more conducive environment for them to enjoy the events.

  1. Communicate with Family and Friends

Educating your relatives and friends about your child’s unique presentation of autism is important in fostering an understanding and supportive environment during the holidays. Inform them of your child’s current special interest, as well as any sensitivities. This will set the stage for positive interactions with your child. 

Communicate what behaviors or situations might trigger discomfort for your child, and let others know how they can help in managing those situations if you’d like them to. Tell them you are bringing separate food for them because of their limited diet, or would like music turned down due to sensory sensitivities. That way, you are creating a more inclusive and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

  1. Include Your Child

Involving your child in the preparations for the event can be an empowering experience for them. Engaging them in activities like decorating, setting the table, helping to cook, or even managing turn-taking during gift exchange can provide them with a sense of control and give them a way to positively contribute.

As you attend holiday events, allow your child the freedom to choose their level of participation. By providing them with the choice to engage in activities they feel comfortable with and avoiding potentially distressing situations, you are showing them you respectfully understand their boundaries and preferences.

Holiday gatherings can become very enjoyable experiences for children with autism when the environment is structured to meet their needs. Through understanding and planning, the holiday season can be a wonderful time of year for you and your family. 

For more information on how we at Gersh Academy work to create an accommodating environment for your child, reach out here.





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