The Gregg School

Christmas Holiday Tips For Parents Of Children With ASD

Christmas is a fun and exciting time, but for children with autistic spectrum disorder, the lack of routine combined with crowds and lights can make this a really challenging time.

Here are a few tips to help you to navigate the festive season…


Many people with autism prefer situations and routines that are predictable and consistent. That means any break from routine can be hard to bear - and Christmas is always a time where routine goes out of the window.

  • Plan ahead and practice. If you are going to do something out of the ordinary, plan ahead with your child. For example, if you are going to church for a Christmas service, take your child to visit the church beforehand and talk to the vicar or minister about what you can expect. Talk about how this service may be different from other services, and if you can get hold of an order of service spend some time going through this with your child
  • Feel free to say no. There can often be so many invitations at this time of year; people want to see each other and there are outings, events and all sorts going on. It can be overwhelming as the changes mount up. Don’t be afraid to decline an invitation - even at short notice. This is especially important if the event you are thinking of attending something that may be more crowded or will keep your child up past their bedtime.

Family Gatherings

Family gatherings can be tricky because often people who don’t live with an autistic child full time can find it hard to understand their needs. Family members may take offence to something your child says or does, or they may have certain expectations that your child will find it hard to reach.

  • Bring the necessities with you. If your child needs a particular food, blanket, DVD or whatever else in order to calm down and feel comfortable, bring that with you and plan it into your day.
  • Plan ahead. If you know that your child is likely to become overwhelmed and need some time out, manage expectations by telling people beforehand. Explain that you would love to spend time with them for the morning, but that you will need to have some down time in the afternoon.
  • Manage expectations. If your child only eats particular foods, likes to watch a particular TV show or has other requirements you know may come up, speak to your family about this beforehand. Explain that they don’t like to try new foods, or don’t like surprises. If you warn people ahead of time they may surprise you with how supportive they can be.

Sensory Issues

Children with autism can often have a strong, negative reaction to bright lights, loud noises or strong smells. That makes Christmas time hard to navigate for them.

  • Plan ahead and avoid challenges where you can. If you can avoid taking your child out into the busy streets, it could be easier for all concerned if you shop online or find a way to go shopping alone.
  • Have a plan B just in case. Some children are ok with noise and lights for a short while and you may want to take them out to an event. If you do this, be sure to consider alternatives and a plan B just in case things don’t go brilliantly. Book seats near the exit in case you need to leave, or if you are at an outdoor event be sure to check out quiet spaces well before you need them so that you know where to go.
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