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10 Ways To Create An Autism-Friendly Holiday Season

Dec 05, 2022

The holiday season is a joyful time, but it can also be difficult for families who have members with autism. Changes to normal routines and the over-stimulation caused by decorations and extra people can cause significant stress for someone on the autism spectrum.

Here are my favorite tips, for making the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.

  1. Prepare your child as much as you can. Young people with autism have a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event or disruption to their regular schedule. You may want to consider preparing them for holiday events, especially if they will be missing therapy sessions or school that they are used to. Some find it helpful to use a visual, such as a calendar to mark the dates of upcoming events and count down the days.
  2. Use sensory-friendly holiday decor. This includes garland that does not have lights. Avoiding LED lighting. Set your lights to stay on consistently or use only a slow fade, rather than fast twinkling. Consider a small tree, rather than a large one. Use solid prints on any blankets or throw pillows that you are using instead of your normal ones. And lastly, consider the scents that you use during the holidays may not be pleasant for someone with autism.
  3. Gradually decorate. Engaging your child as much as possible will help them adjust to the extra or new items in their space. It may also be helpful to set the decorations up over several days rather than all at once.
  4. Using a Holiday Countdown. For some this may be an advent calendar, for others it may simply mean crossing off the days on the calendar. Keeping your child involved with the passing season will always help them feel less out of control.
  5. Create a safe space for overwhelming situations. If you are attending or hosting a gathering, it is helpful to create a calming space for your child to go to if things become too overwhelming. Make sure everyone understands so that this space is kept readily available for when it is needed.
  6. If you are traveling for the holidays, bring familiar items from home, as well as distraction tactics. Having familiar items available can help bring calmness to a stressful situation. If this will be the first time your child is flying, it may be helpful to bring them to the airport in advance or watch media about airports and airplanes. Talk about what it will be like to board and fly. Lastly, bring things that will help distract your child if they start to become anxious. Things like books, fidget toys, tablets, noise-canceling headphones, etc...
  7. Understand that it is okay to say no. The holidays are a busy time, and often a time when friends and family gather. Understand that you have no obligation to say yes to everything. Keeping your gatherings infrequent and small will help ease your stress, as well as your child's stress.
  8. Show pictures of previous holidays and visitors. If you are going to a gathering or hosting one, it may be helpful for your child to see who will be there. Show pictures of friends, family, and past holiday celebrations.
  9. Prepare your guests. Help your guests to understand the needs of your autistic child, such as preferring not to be hugged.
  10.  My last and most important tip is to take the time to learn about your child's Window of Tolerance and begin using tension and trauma release exercises (Tre™) to reduce stress and anxiety. Both you and your child can use Tre™ to restore calm during times of stress. 

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