Autism and Holidays
Celebrations That Work

Autism and holidays can be tricky.  During a holiday gathering, sensory overload is almost a guarantee for kids on the autism spectrum.

Holidays are interesting, in that we want to get together, but a little bit of a holiday tends to go a long, long way.   True story, we all feel it.

When you throw in food, large groups of people and alcohol (perhaps), spaces get crowded and rooms get loud.

 So in the the spirit of enjoying the holidays, but thriving through the chaos let’s talk about how to modify the days to make them enjoyable.

Scale Back

Fancy clothes, special china, people we see once a year, and super special manners at the table.  Nothing about a holiday follows the everyday routine.  

I remember the fanfare from my own childhood, and now that I have my own family we are much more laid back.  I keep the emphasis on having the family together and it works for us.

If you have family traditions, by all means keep them up.  Traditions create so many of the warm memories that we cherish.  We want our memories to be happy, so:

Are there areas you could negotiate, such as:

Fancy clothes

Schedule changes

New and different foods

Family members staying in the house

Gatherings and events

Limit how many off-schedule choices your child actually needs to make.  Keep sensory input low and enjoy your time together.



Have An Escape Plan

Create a safe zone whether you are having a get-together at home or somewhere else. Have a preplanned safe space for times of sensory overload.

Include a blanket, pillow, favorite item, and lots of quiet.  

This could be in the child’s room or any space that is free of extra people.

Make A Who's Who Book







The array of people can be confusing especially if you only see them a few times a year. 

This doesn’t need to be fancy, so put a groups of photos in a book complete with names.  Review the book a few times before the gathering and keep it close for reminders on the holiday.


A little bit of planning and organizing can go a long way.  

A planner with a daily schedule and all changes highlighted can be marked ahead of time.  Change doesn’t have to be a surprise.

Don't Force

We are in the year of social distancing, so this one may not be a problem.

If being touched or hugging sets your kid off, pass.  Waving or saying hi is fine.  It really is.

Turn Advice Down

Isn’t is great when relatives know how to handle your child?

Nope.  Not really.  

You can simply say, “Oh we’re doing just fine!”

Then walk on.  

Have A Time Limit

Holidays can be defined on your terms.  

Do what works for you.  

Limit the time you spend for a celebration if time contributes to overwhelm.  

autism and holidays


Consider a quiet tradition with your immediate family that your child will love.

Drive around and look at Christmas lights.

Make holiday cookies and goodies.

Watch a holiday movie as a family.

Remember, some of the best traditions are the simple ones.

Make Small Changes

In other words, you might not want to go Clark Griswold with decorating, especially in one day.  

Mention you will be decorating for the holidays.  Give your child time to process the information.  

Remember that slow, small change is better than a big surprise.


I heard a college classmate say once, “The holidays are just 3 days we survive.”   

My hope is that you do more than survive.

Enjoy this time with traditions that work for you.  Remember, the end goal:  enjoying your family.  

A successful holiday is one where you loved on your family and made some happy memories.

Matching pj’s optional.

Resources For Follow Up

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