Five top tips for planning an autism-friendly Christmas party

Christmas is always a busy and exciting time of year, and the workplace is no different. However, for some autistic employees, work Christmas parties can be a source of stress, pressure and anxiety. These five tips will help ensure that your employee feels as included and comfortable as possible in your festive celebrations.

  • Speak to your employee: First things first, remember that every autistic person is an individual. The best thing you can do to make sure your autistic employee feels welcomed and included in the Christmas party is speak to them about their preferences. Many autistic people can find work social situations quite overwhelming and may not wish to come at all – if that's the case, don't worry and embrace that decision. However, some autistic people love the chance to socialise, but might struggle to join in because of anxiety or sensory issues. You might want to ask some questions such as, where are your favourite places to eat out? Do you prefer going to the pub or to a bar? Do you have any sensory issues that I should know about? And most importantly, do you want to be involved in the Christmas Party this year?
  • Dare to be different: Some autistic people find the traditional 'meal in a noisy restaurant followed by drinks in a bar' format a little intimidating, as it often requires a lot of small talk and might not be the best sensory environment. Consider doing something a little different this year – a trip to an Escape Room, a Christmas themed cruise or even a trip to the local ice skating rink followed by some mulled wine at a Christmas market could be great alternatives. You might want to consider having two parts to the party too – a less traditional idea first followed by drinks out.
  • Explain any unwritten rules clearly: Is it ok to bring a partner? What's the dress code? Do I have to take part in Secret Santa? Is it ok to have a glass of wine at a 3pm Christmas lunch? How many drinks can I have from the free bar? All of these are questions that can help reduce the anxiety levels of an autistic employee and help them feel more relaxed about joining in. Make sure that you're clear about any particular plans and make sure that the employee knows exactly what to expect. If you have any 'surprise' elements planned, you may wish to let your autistic employee know a little in advance too.
  • Offer a buddy: Some employees may find it easier to come along if they feel like they have a buddy who can help make sure they're included in conversations and who can help explain any social quirks that don't make sense. It makes sense for this to be someone the employee already knows and gets along with, if possible. This person doesn't need to babysit the employee but it can be helpful for some people to know there's a certain person to ask if they're not sure about something.
  • Provide a clear invite in advance: Make sure that your invite includes clear details of the venue (including a map and pictures if possible), menu options, cost and RSVP requirements. If some of the event will be paid for by work, explain exactly what will be paid for and what won't be. Give as much detail as possible for the structure of the evening, especially if it will be in two separate parts. You may also wish to note which parts of the evening will be quieter and which will be more noisey. By providing clear details before hand, you are empowering your employee to make an informed decision about whether or not the event will suit them.