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Ways to Enjoy Holidays

There is no place like home… especially for the holidays. Here are some enjoyable ways to ensure that your autistic loved one has a fun and memorable break this holiday season.

Holidays can be a challenging time for all of us, but especially for autistic children and loved ones. The time away from school, disruptions in their schedules and routines, celebrations and time spent with groups of people can be overwhelming. Here are some tips for helping individuals with autism adjust to the change in routine, a chance to enjoy the decorations, make the most out of holiday gatherings, and to prepare them for opening presents.

Structure their time outside of school:


Planning and communication help ensure the change in routine over the holiday break goes smoothly.

Before the break

Discuss with your child about the upcoming school break. Make sure they understand the changes to their routine, and what to expect over the break.
Communicate with your child’s support team. It is important to remain consistent and structured even during a break. Seek support that helps maintain your child’s progress and provide routine.
Prepare your child in advance. You could make it fun to count down the days until break or cross them off a calendar together daily until break.

During the break


Keep as much structure in your child’s life as you can.

Allow time for breaks. By planning breaks you can help your child self-regulate and deal with challenging emotions or behavior or with sensory discomfort. If your child will be spending time at activities away from home, schedule some quiet time during the day.
Be flexible. Your child may decide at the last minute that they’d rather stay home instead of going out for an activity. If possible, choose another day or time.
Look for local activities or programs during the time off from school. Visit autism-friendly events in your local area.

Gathering with family and friends

Here are a few accommodations to help make holiday festivities fun for your child.

Have a favorite or preferred item autistic loved one. This is something to help calm your child and focus their attention. Examples include fidget spinners, headphones, books or a tablet. Decide on a code word or signal that your child can use to tell you when they need a break.
Reconsider decorations such as blinking lights or decorations that make sounds that are distressing to your child. While some children enjoy the blinking lights, many do not. Try to determine if the lights or sound is too much to help prevent sensory overload.
Make sure there’s a quiet space, like a bedroom, where your child can take a break. It’s OK if your child needs to spend some time alone amid so much excitement.
Make a photo album with pictures of the people your child will see and practice greetings and possible questions. The more you can prepare your child for who they will see and the scripts you can give them, the more enjoyable the gathering will be. Prepare your child too that there may be people they don’t know. Give them a simple phrase like, “Pardon me, I have to excuse myself now” to use when they are uncomfortable and need a break.

Giving Gifts


While presents can be exciting, the commotion that comes with unwrapping them may not be fun for your child. Prepare them about what to expect when receiving and opening presents.

If your child talks a lot about gifts, ask them to make a list of gifts they want.
Practice opening gifts ahead of time. Help your child understand that others will be opening gifts too.
Be flexible. All the excitement about gifts may be overwhelming and your child may not want to open gifts. Your child may want to open gifts at another time.

Making new traditions

Here are some things you can do to start some autism-friendly holiday traditions for your family.

Go see an autism friendly Santa. Autism Speaks teamed up with Cherry Hill Partners to offer over 500 sensory-friendly Santa Cares events in locations across the U.S.
● Adding your child’s favorite activities characters to your holiday decorations is a wonderful way to incorporate their special interests.
● Decorating may be overwhelming. Try putting decorations up slowly or even room by room. Be sure and ask them to help and add decorations they like.
● Check with local autism organizations, your church, or your child’s school to see if there are other activities you can participate in that are sensory-friendly.