Holiday Tips for Helping Children with Autism

These tips were written to help the families of children with Autism reduce holiday stress, but they are useful to all children.

Adapted from Autism-Society.org:

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare . Keep a calendar or an ongoing verbal countdown until a special event occurs (such as going to grandma’s). Talk about the event ahead of time. Tell the child what to expect, what they might eat, and what it is okay (and not okay) to do.

2. Provide familiar comforts . During road trips, extra shopping, and non-routine events, bring comfort items such as favorite foods, quiet toys, or sensory items to calm.

3. Have the child help decorate . Changes in the appearance of the home may be disconcerting. If the child helps to decorate, however, they may feel more like a part of the change, rather than a victim to the change. Have the child help plan or put up decorations, choose menus, and decide on gifts and wrapping.

4. Prepare photos of people that will be seen . I did this for my own children when we were going to visit long-distance relatives. Review pictures of the people that the child will see. Talk about each person. Recall previous times the child has interacted with these people. It is nice if the child has a mini-photo album of all these photos.

5. Practice . Practice opening gifts by opening one book each evening in advance of the holiday. Practice waiting turns. Practice saying “thank you”.

6. Help less-familiar adults understand your child . Talk to relatives and family friends in advance about ways they can help your child feel more comfortable. Provide them with written information such as this letter. Tell them foods, sounds, and sights that your child might like and dislike.

7. Plan ways to help the child initiate conversation . This idea is my own… Many children with Autism have difficulties initiating conversation. The child may feel stressed or unsure when casual questions are asked of them. Or the child may be non-verbal and unable to communicate in a way that less-familiar adults can recognize. Give the child a photo album of things that they enjoy talking about: their room, their favorite toys, their favorite topics. Let the child use these pictures as a means to begin conversations. Non-verbal children can initiate by showing the pictures of their favorite items. Verbal children may feel less reserved if they know what they can talk about to their relatives.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

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  1. We are staying home this year, without family – but boy I wish I would have had this list before, it’s great. I guess it really applies to lots of other events as well. Sometimes I forget (when he’s doing well) that little things like this can make a big difference for him. Thanks!

  2. What terrific ideas! I wish I’d had this list when my kids were little. I think they’d be very helpful for all kids. And hey, I could use my own photo directory before the next family reunion!

  3. What a wonderful list!! I have a friend that has two boys with different forms of Autism…I will pass this on to her!!

    happy holidays!!


  4. Thank you, this should help with my nephew this holiday. I keep me most of the time so I’m definitely going to be using these hints.

  5. Most of these are great for any kid! My little one has some sensory issues, and the more prepared he is, the less chance of a meltdown. This kind of stuff works really well with him. Thanks.

  6. These are great tips for all children!!! I think sometimes we know what’s coming and we just throw the kids in the mix… the deserve some heads up!!! Great advice and great tips, thanks for sharing!!!



  7. Thanks for the tips, we are travelling this year for Christmas (first time in a long time) so these will come in handy!

  8. A great list for all children. Talking about where we are going, who we are seeing, the things Peaches will need to say thank you for… it’s a long list, but it really works.

    Peaches is learning to speak and at busy family parties people don’t always stop to listen to her. It really helps for her to know as much as possible in advance so that she doesn’t get frustrated.

  9. This is an excellent list for all children, I think. Even my husband! ;O)

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