An ode to an Autism Friendly Christmas

By Louise Lawrence and Dr. Rebecca Varrall

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… the festive season is rapidly descending upon us in all is chintzy glory!  While this build up can be exciting to some people, others with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) can find the changes to routine, the increased social demands and the sensory overload all too much. This season does not have to spell disaster though, and with planning and support we hope that everyone can enjoy Christmas how they want it to be.

Autism is a lifelong condition which impacts people’s lives every day. People who have ASC may experience the world in a different way. ASC is often described as a ‘hidden disability’ as the difficulties people experience in the world are not obvious to those around them.  ASC is a disability that society needs to understand in order for neurodiverse people to be valued and included.

A feature of ASC is processing sensory input like sounds, smells and touch differently. Have you ever been on holiday to a remote place where there is no traffic noise, there are sounds of nature and tranquillity and then you return to the city and your senses are reeling; you feel overloaded by the lights, sounds, smells and pace of life. This level of heightened sensory sensitivities is what people with ASC face daily.

The lights are starting to twinkle, the bells are almost beginning to jingle and the smells of cinnamon and mulled wine are starting to waft in the air. As the days get shorter, the build up to Christmas season begins, and yes, this does seem to be earlier each year… we’ve have put together a chorus of carols to help you to have autism friendly Christmas.

‘Dashing through the snow’

  • Christmas can often be a hectic time with changes to the usual routine – as the old saying goes, be prepared (as much as possible). Without structure, people with autism can be left feeling confused and worried.
  • Do try to stick to your usual routine to keep things the same as much possible – if you choose to eat Christmas lunch at 11.30 am because that’s the usual then so be it.
  • Use calendars and visual aids to help countdown to events and support people to cope with changes to routine.

 ‘Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells’

  •  With lights, sounds, smells and the season changing the sensory information can be overwhelming.
  • Try to involve the autistic person with choosing and putting up decorations in the house. They may appreciate being in charge of the switch for the lights to help give a sense of control.
  • Trial ear defenders for sensory overload.
  • Prepare a space in the house or classroom where there are no Christmas decorations which can be a calm space to retreat to as needed.

‘Good tidings we bring’

  • Surprises such as presents can often cause anxiety in people with autism so limit the number of presents or try using cellophane to wrap.
  • Limit the number of visitors to the home and ask friends and family not to come unannounced.
  • In social events make sure you plan how long you will stay and know how to leave easily should it become too over stimulating.

 ‘Simply having a wonderful Christmas time’

  • The shops can be heaving with people whether you are going to the supermarket or Christmas shopping for gifts. You know your child best; can they cope with the hustle and bustle of Xmas shopping? 
  • If you do venture out, perhaps a social story to explain that the shops can be very busy at this time of year, if you think it would be too much for your child perhaps think about online shopping or going shopping without your child.

 ‘All I want for Christmas is you’

  • If some situations are too much for you or your child to cope with, choose your battles and allow them time and space to cope with the festivities.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – make time to do activities you know you enjoy whether this is 10 minutes outside the home, scanning Radio Times for Christmas plans, or a soak in the bath, remember to focus on you.

Christmas has different meanings to different people and is bound up by family traditions.  Christmas is about taking the time to spend with family and making memories together. So, whatever you do this year relax, indulge and enjoy from all at #TeamADL 

Christmas 2018

… heads up, #TeamADL January 2019 blog will focus on Speech, Language & Communication Needs.  Till then.

Additional resources:

For further ideas to plan for the Christmas season please see the National Autistic Society website

About Louise Lawrence and Rebecca Varrall:

As members of #TeamADL, Louise and Rebecca lead on identification, support and provision for children and young people with Autism.  Their combined experience and expertise in Language Therapy and Clinical Psychology enables them to consider holistic solutions to meeting the needs of children and young people with ASC.  They believe passionately in focusing on a person’s strengths and harnessing those for children and young people to live independent fulfilling lives.  To find out more about how Louise and Rebecca’s work visit: