It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Bright, colorful lights, Christmas music playing everywhere, crowds of people in all the stores, and lots and lots of holiday cheer. All of these things can either make your Christmas amazing, or, it can cause some hiccups or maybe even a little chaos when you have an autistic member of the family. When a child has sensory issues, all of the things can make planning an autism-friendly Christmas a little bit daunting. Don’t worry though, it is doable!
I am going to talk here about some tips for planning an autism-friendly Christmas. First though, I want to mention that I think that there are several avenues that need to be looked at when planning an autism-friendly Christmas. One avenue is for those that live with someone who is on the spectrum and the other will be for those of us who are hosting Christmas and will have an autistic guest joining us for Christmas.
Regardless of if we live with someone on the spectrum, or we plan to host one at our Christmas celebration. We all know that our autistic loved ones deserve to have a great Christmas, just like everyone else. Let’s do all that we can to make that happen.
Tips for Planning an Autism-Friendly Christmas
Keep in mind that someone on the spectrum is likely to be on edge already going into a holiday gathering. These tips for planning an autism-friendly Christmas can help you to help them enjoy themselves and not deal with unnecessary stress.
Keep your routines as consistent as possible
I know that it’s hard to stick to routines with the busy holiday schedules, but you will find the most success by keeping your routines as consistent as possible.
Skip the multi-colored and/or blinking lights
Different types of lights can affected those with sensory issues. Stick with white lights or another solid color string of lights. Another great idea is to use dimmer switches on your tree lights so that you can turn down the brightness. The idea is to keep the lights simple.
Turn down the music
Loud music can be too much for anyone. Let alone an autistic child who is probably already on edge. Keep the music at a level low enough that you can have a conversation over it without issue.
No strong scents
No strong scented pine cones, no fragrant wax melts, etc. Many people on the spectrum have a difficult time dealing with strong scents.
Have a dedicated sensory-friendly meal for them during parties and celebrations
It is no secret that many autistic people struggle with food. Whether it’s the taste, or texture or whatever, it’s best to not have this battle when you don’t need to. I’m sure that you already do this in your day to day life, it definitely needs to be done during the chaos of the holidays as well.
Create an autism-friendly safe space
Many children on the spectrum need to have a space that they can call their own. This is especially true during holiday gatherings. Maybe keep one bedroom closed off and ready to be that safe space. Make sure that it’s close enough that you can easily check on them, but far enough away that they can get a break from the stimulus.
Don’t force them into uncomfortable situations
You don’t want to be forced into a situation that makes you uncomfortable, right? People on the spectrum are no different. Don’t make them hang out in the crowds of people, don’t force them to sing the carols, don’t force them to do things that will trigger them. Give them space. Allow them activities that they are comfortable with.
Keep sentimental, valuable and breakable ornaments and decor put up
I know that you really want to show off and admire your fancy Christmas decor, but I am pretty sure you would be sad if they got broken. Children on the spectrum don’t go into the holidays with plans to break your stuff, but things happen. You may as well do all that you can to avoid it.
Create a solid plan for holiday outings
If you are planning to go on a holiday outing, make sure you map out your outing schedule and you plan well. If you have an older child that is on the spectrum let them help you shop and give them a job to do that is well within their abilities. If your child is younger, bring snacks and activities that they will enjoy doing to keep them busy. Make sure that you don’t stay out too long so that they don’t get tired while out. Pay attention to their cues so that you know if they are nearing a meltdown. You don’t want them to go through that in public.
Do not have any expectations
Holding strong to expectations in any holiday gathering, autism-friendly or not, can always backfire on you. Just go with the flow. Plan things out, but don’t stress if things go a little haywire. It won’t be the end of the world. Maybe this will be a good day and maybe not. Regardless, you need to try!
Hosting an Autism-Friendly Holiday Party
If you don’t live with someone on the spectrum, but you are hosting and are expecting an autistic family member or friend, here are a couple of extra tips for you.
If you are expecting an autistic child at your holiday gathering, it is always best to reach out to the parents to ask about preferences. Make sure to ask what they like ahead of time. This can be in relation to the foods that you are preparing, the activities you have planned and even what types of music would be best. Also, find out what their triggers are and make sure they are removed from the space that the festivities will take place in. The parents will be thrilled that you asked. Chances are, they are already stressed about the upcoming festivities and knowing that you are taking their child’s needs into consideration will make them feel much better.
Do not get offended
People on the spectrum are not fully aware of social cues and they tend to be very blunt and speak their mind. Do not get offended about anything that they may say to you. Don’t be surprised if they say that they don’t like your cooking, or your hair, or your house, or the gift you have given them. It is nothing personal, so please don’t take it as such.
Do not try and correct them
Listen. Most people get upset when you try to parent or correct their children. This will be worse than that I promise you. Parents of autistic children are used to these situations, let them deal with any situations that may occur. They have spent years trying to learn how to treat situations with their autistic children. You trying to correct them on behaviors will likely only result in a meltdown.