Christmas bauble hanging from tree

Christmas can be an exciting and fun time for many of us, but new activity can be overwhelming for some. However, with good planning and communication Christmas can be enjoyed by all. 

With your help we have compiled a list of tips for the festive period. In addition, we have also created downloadable PDF top tip guides for autistic adults, parents, grandparents and family and professionals. The tips are intended to provide general guidance and will not be suitable for everyone. Key to preparing for a successful Christmas is to make sure the autistic person is central to all planning.

Christmas top tips

Don’t try to shoehorn in a 'traditional Christmas' - it’s better for the whole family in the long run to work out what a good Christmas for your family looks like.

Parent

Gingerbread man Christmas iconPreparing

Autistic people can find any kind of change difficult. Planning and preparation is key to everyone enjoying Christmas.

  • Plan and talk about Christmas in advance. Think about what you/they are looking forward to and what might be a concern. Where possible and appropriate, share this with the rest of your family and friends.

Have a plan beforehand, and share it. My partner knows how stressed not knowing what to expect makes me on a regular day, much less over the holidays.

Autistic Adult

  • If it is helpful, use visual aids such as calendars, lists and schedules to help explain and plan your Christmas.
  • Liaise with school, college or support teams so the same approach and strategies are used at home, and so that Christmas preparation is started at the same time.
  • Think about and plan around sensory issues that could cause distress - consider ear defenders etc… for key points of potential sensory overload.

It can be helpful to wear earplugs when attending family or work Christmas parties and social events. Also scoping out the nearest toilets is one of my coping tips as they always provide a safe and quiet escape if you feel sensory overload. 

Autistic adult

  • Think creatively about how you can bring the magic of Christmas in a way that works for everyone.

If you or your child enjoy the Christmas lights and window displays, sit on the top deck of the bus and you’ll get a birds eye view without getting stuck in the crowds. We do it every year and involve all my children so everybody’s happy. 

Parent

  • Plan and discuss food in advance and where possible:
  • prepare the autistic person for any changes to meals, cutlery or table set ups, or avoid making these changes all together 
  • keep food and meal times the same as much as possible.

Do whatever works for you and yours. If it is pizza or chicken nuggets for Christmas lunch, that is OK. Don’t strive for the perfect Christmas off of the ads or movies, aim for whatever makes the perfect Christmas for your family.

Parent

  • Don’t just plan for Christmas day, plan for the whole festive break.
  • Some autistic people may not want to get involved in social gatherings at Christmas and/or they might want to be on their own. It is important that your expectations of Christmas take account of their needs. Think about the best way for you all to communicate over the Christmas period if you are not meeting in person – maybe a phone call, text or a Christmas card. 

clock iconScheduling

Many autistic people have a strong need for routine. If so, you might want to try:

  • Keeping the daily schedule the same as far as possible, including on Christmas Day.

I find Christmas rather overwhelming, the build-up causing much stress. I find it helps keeping the routine as normal/usual as possible.

Autistic Adult

  • Where appropriate introduce Christmas activities gradually into the daily schedule; Christmas shopping, opening the advent calendars, putting up decorations or switching on the tree lights.
  • Share and plan in any additional visits from family or friends in advance.

Normally it's a quiet affair. Just the immediate family and I'm warned in advance if anyone turns up during the day. Growing up, Christmas was fun and an exciting time. 

Autistic adult

 

  • Create a quiet space where the autistic person can take a break if they get overwhelmed, preferably in a Christmas-free area, and particularly around the main days of Christmas or at key times that there may be stress.

Give permission to your teen to retreat to their room if all the family and friends visits become overwhelming.

Parent

snowflake Christmas iconDecorations

Many autistic people will have differing sensory needs, decorations for some are great where as others will struggle. 

  • Plan the most suitable decorations, including where best to have them and how many.

Christmas is and always will be overwhelming. Christmas scents and candles can be super overwhelming sensory-wise so could be avoided when decorating. Flashing fairy lights can be overwhelming visually, etc...

Autistic adult

 

  • Consider decorating gradually, for example put the Christmas tree in position, decorate it the next day, then put up other decorations even later.

Last year we put the tree up a week before and gradually added decorations as and when he wanted to.

Parent

  • Create Christmas-free areas of the home without decorations.

Presents

Presents can be overwhelming; from the wrapping, the amount and expectation on responding to receiving presents.

  • In the build up to Christmas with children, think carefully about how to introduce the notion of Father Christmas, explaining it in a way they will understand and avoid the concept of ‘Father Christmas having a good and naughty list’ – this can cause unnecessary stress if taken literally.

Our Christmas was revolutionised when I realised that every year he had spent weeks worrying he would be on the naughty list and get nothing.

Parent

  • If too many presents may be overwhelming, discuss and set a limit together. For example, one from mum and dad, one from grandparents and other family members could perhaps give money. 
  • Introduce presents one by one instead of all at once, or stagger them throughout the festive period.
  • Some autistic people don’t like the surprise of presents they aren’t expecting, think about planning in advance and making a list of presents they want.

I learnt early on it’s best to stick to Santa’s list exactly, no surprises as they can often cause anxiety.

Parent

  • Discuss whether presents should be wrapped or not and consider alternatives. For example, leave presents unwrapped but in a gift bag, or try wrapping in cling film for less of a sensory overload.
  • Plan in saving for/buying presents for family and friends and provide support where required.
  • Plan your Christmas shopping in advance, think about going at quieter times or shopping online. 

Support/Parent to Parent new icon  Getting support

Liaise with family, friends and any support services to ensure smooth planning across the festive period and any potential help they can offer.


Further help from our charity:

Christmas party tips

Christmas parties can be a source of stress, pressure and anxiety. We have made a helpful Christmas Party Guide template, which party organisers can fill in and share with autistic friends, family and colleagues in advance. This can give autistic people time to process information and allow them to make an informed decision about whether or not the party is right for them.

Of course, every autistic person is an individual, so do speak to them about what party organisers can do to make them feel welcome and included.

Organising an autism friendly Christmas party 

Useful resources

I know what to expect at Christmas & birthdays

Christmas tips