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A Guide to a Sensory-Friendly Holiday Season for Autism

Updated:

3/22/2023

Navigating Autism and the Holidays: A Guide to a Smooth and Sensory-Friendly Holiday Season

The holiday season brings joy, warmth, and cherished family traditions. However, for families with children on the autism spectrum, this time of year can also bring unique challenges. Navigating autism and the holidays can be a rewarding experience with the right strategies in place. In this article, we’ll explore tips and strategies for a smooth holiday season, including managing sensory sensitivities and family gatherings.

Understanding Sensory Sensitivities

Many children with autism have sensory sensitivities, which can make the holiday season overwhelming. Here are some tips to help manage sensory sensitivities during the holidays:

Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment: If you’re hosting holiday gatherings at your home, consider designating a quiet, sensory-friendly space where your child can retreat if they become overwhelmed. This space should have sensory tools or activities that your child finds comforting.

Plan for Sensory Breaks: Be proactive and plan for sensory breaks during holiday events. Let your child know that it’s okay to take a break if they need to, and schedule downtime as part of your holiday activities.

Limit Sensory Overload: Manage sensory input by controlling the lighting, noise, and other sensory elements. Use dimmer switches, noise-cancelling headphones, or earplugs to help your child regulate their sensory experiences.

Navigating Family Gatherings

Family gatherings during the holidays can be wonderful but can also present social and sensory challenges for children with autism. Here are some strategies to navigate these gatherings successfully:

Prepare Your Family: Share information about your child’s unique needs and sensitivities with family members. Encourage understanding, patience, and support from everyone.

Communicate Clearly: Prior to gatherings, communicate with your child about what to expect, who will be there, and any specific routines that might change. Visual schedules or social stories can be helpful tools.

Bring Familiar Items: If possible, bring familiar toys, comfort items, or sensory tools to family gatherings. Having familiar items can provide comfort in an unfamiliar environment.

Provide Clear Expectations: Let your child know what is expected of them during the gathering. Use simple and clear instructions to help reduce anxiety.

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Creating Sensory-Friendly Holiday Traditions

Create sensory-friendly holiday traditions to ensure an enjoyable season for your child:

Special Sensory-Friendly Activities: Incorporate sensory-friendly activities into your holiday traditions, such as making sensory-friendly ornaments, baking, or watching holiday movies in a calm setting.

Maintain Routines: While some holiday routines may change, try to maintain your child’s daily routines and schedule as much as possible.

Celebrate Small Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s accomplishments during holiday events. This positive reinforcement can boost their self-esteem and confidence.

Navigating autism and the holidays requires thoughtful planning, understanding, and flexibility. By managing sensory sensitivities, preparing for family gatherings, and creating sensory-friendly traditions, you can make the holiday season a joyful and memorable experience for your child on the autism spectrum. Remember that every child is unique, so adapt these strategies to suit your child’s specific needs and preferences. With your support and the right strategies in place, you can ensure a smooth and sensory-friendly holiday season for your family.

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