Autism: a survival guide for Christmas

Mother and child at decorating Christmas tree

The festive season can prove a trying time for autistic children. It can be a time of excessive noise and excitement, which for an autistic child can cause sensory overload.

In this blog, we take a look at some tips to support your child with autism at Christmas. Here’s how to keep Christmas manageable and positive for your family this year: 


Avoid surprises 


Unplanned events and changes in routine can be stressful for those with autism. Christmas itself is a change to the usual day to day events, so during the festive period it’s best to keep further change to a minimum. Make sure you prepare children for what will be happening- an advent calendar is a great way to do this as it is a countdown to the big day.  


Ensure you share plans of what will be going on when and with who ahead of time. This helps your child get their head around what to expect. You can also ask relatives what food they will be serving and who will be attending and share this information too. 


Don’t over-plan 


While it can be tempting to squeeze in seeing every family member and take part in multiple fun activities, your child may find that difficult. Instead, aim for keeping Christmas low-key, with lots of downtime (more on that in a minute!). Try and keep daily routines similar to normal. 


If it would feel too much for your child to see all the decorations go up in one day, you can do them gradually. Also consider having decoration-free areas of your home, which provide a calm zone for your child.  

Father and child decorating the Christmas tree

Allow for plenty of downtime 


Create a quiet space for your child to go to if they feel overwhelmed. This could simply be their room if you’re at home, or a quiet bedroom at a relative’s house. Allow for plenty of quiet time and space for your child over the festive period, away from the decorations and excitement.  


Let relatives know that your child needs calm and quiet so that this can be factored into any plans, and they can be left alone when they need to. Also keep in mind the changes to your child’s sensory environment- even Christmas lights can prove overwhelming.  


Downtime can also include peaceful pursuits like going for a walk or feeding the ducks in the park- anything that helps your child.  


Do what’s best for your family 


The demands of others over Christmas can prove difficult when you’re trying to keep things peaceful. Don’t be afraid to say no to suggestions and requests to visit if it seems it will be too much.  


If your child would find it easier to have their normal preferred foods, allow them to do so, either at home or at a relative’s house- you can take their food with you. If your child uses noise cancelling headphones, take them with you as well and explain to your relatives why your child needs them.  


Some children may find that opening lots of presents in one go is too much, so communicate this to relatives and ask them to go easy on the gifts.  


Looking for more support with autism?

Access Spurgeons courses that support parents with caring for a child with autism. 

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