5 Steps to a Sensory Friendly Christmas

Christmas is an exciting time of the year for families to celebrate the holiday season. Getting together with friends and family, visiting Santa and watching a Santa Claus Parade are all part of the fun.  However, for many children and adults, Christmas is stressful. The change in routine, interacting with strangers and being in large groups of people is overwhelming. Christmas festivities contribute to sensory overload. Holiday celebrations are a challenge for children and adults with sensory disorders and autism, too. Read on to make your Christmas sensory-friendly and more enjoyable when sensory sensitivity is a challenge.

Trish Hamilton, digital marketer and a mother of a child who is on the autism spectrum and has sensory processing disorder contributed to this blog post.

Changing your expectations for Christmas

Young person and grandmother sitting at dinner table during Christmas dinner.

Hamilton’s most important suggestion to help parents during the holiday season who have a child with sensory differences it to change parental expectations. As a parent, you may want to re-create your own cherished Christmas memories. Alternatively, there may be new holiday moments that you want to create for your child. However, be ready to change expectations for your sensory child.

For example, important traditions are often visiting Santa Claus or watching a Christmas parade. However, for a child with a sensory processing disorder, sensory-rich events are overwhelming. Children with sensory differences struggle with experiences that are busy, noisy and bright.

Therefore, adjust your expectations. Choose activities that are a fit for your child. Set up new activities for success by following strategies for a sensory-friendly Christmas. Build trust with your child.

How to create a successful sensory-friendly Christmas

Infographic highlighting 5 different ways to create a sensory-friendly Christmas.

Practice through play. 

Children learn through play. Introduce your child to Christmas experiences through play. Play will help your child understand and manage their own expectations. Play also opens up an opportunity to talk about what you expect of your child, too. And play helps your child practice what to do in new situations.

Show your child pictures of previous Christmases

Another suggestion that Hamilton recommends is to look at pictures and to watch videos of past Christmas celebrations. Similar to play, looking at pictures and watching videos, helps your child remember positive and fun Christmas moments. It also helps your child to process and plan for difficult moments, too, with your help. Use play, pictures and videos to talk to your child and listen to them about Christmas activity likes and dislikes, along with helpful strategies you come up with together.

Keep family and friend gatherings small

The Christmas season typically involves getting together with larger groups of family and friends. For many people, children and adults alike, larger groups are stressful. In particular with unfamiliar people. Keep Christmas gatherings smaller to help manage. Alternatively, keep activities with large groups short and sweet! Always have a plan to leave if and when needed.

Be sure to take bio breaks during Christmas events

Ensure your child isn’t hungry, tired, thirsty, or has to go to the toilet during Christmas events.  Plan ahead and take care of these basics helps your child manage sensory overload. Taking care of basics actually helps everyone. That 4-point check-up should be a requisite before going on any holiday outing!  Schedule a toilet break, ensure a good night’s rest and/or quiet time before and after Christmas events. Also, do not forget to bring snacks and a drink.

Find sensory-friendly Christmas activities in your community

Hamilton expressed that a significant portion of her family’s Christmas traditions are sensory-friendly activities. Many communities create holiday events that are accessible and inclusive to ensure that all children can participate. For example, Hamilton explains that her family has chosen Sensitive Santa Events. Additionally, Hamilton explains she adapts sensory-rich Christmas events to make them enjoyable for her child. For example, instead of attending a Christmas parade, they will watch the parade from a comfortable indoor setting.

“We don’t need to give up our old traditions, but let’s start some new and different ones.”

Trish Hamilton, mother of a child with autism and sensory processing disorder.

Follow these suggestions for a calmer, enjoyable Christmas for your family. Special thanks to Trish Hamilton for sharing her valuable sensory-friendly knowledge! Follow Trish on Twitter. And check out her digital marketing. Additionally, for more inspiration to create a sensory-friendly Christmas, check out Autistic Mama’s blog post and tips!

Looking for more help during the Christmas season for your ‘sensory’ child? Read these blog posts:

Finally, there is help for other seasonal holidays too:

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