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17 Sensory-Friendly Ways to Celebrate the Holidays this Season

Challenges| Planning | Fun Activities and Gift Ideas

There's a lot to look forward to during the holiday season! Christmas smells like delicious food, scented candles, gingerbread, and all the cozy things you can find at home only during the holiday season. It's gift-giving, cookie-baking time that should be dedicated to yummy food, shining Christmas lights, and celebrating with your family and loved ones. The holidays are so beloved that many people would like for them to go on forever! But for a child with an autistic disorder, these happy days can quickly become an unending source of stress, especially the time spent with extended family and good friends. Autistic children dislike crowds, but if you plan to host a holiday dinner or enjoy some outside activities together, The Holiday Blog has prepared some tips and tricks for 17 sensory-friendly ways to celebrate the holidays this season. But since it's not always easy to grasp the complexities of Autism, let's first have a look at why providing a sensory-friendly environment is essential in the first place.

Autism spectrum disorders affect an estimated 75 million people worldwide or about 1% of the world's population. Autism encompasses a number of different recognized disorders, the most common of which are Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. While each of these disorders has its own distinct characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they affect how people process sensory impressions. People with Autism have a different perspective on the world than neurotypical people because they perceive information otherwise. Because of these differing perceptions, they can sometimes have difficulty processing stimuli, especially in a crowded, busy environment. According to Autism Speaks, people with autistic disorders might have sensitivities to:

Sights

Sounds

Smells

Tastes

Touch

Balance (Vestibular)

Awareness of Body Position And Movement (Proprioception)

Awareness of Internal Body Cues And Sensations (Interoception)

Exposing an autistic person to busy surroundings can lead to one or all of the following reactions: overload, meltdown, or shutdown. As a result, they may be overly or insufficiently sensitive to sounds, light, or other, and common emotions include stress, fear, pain, and other unpleasant sensations.  

So, let's check what these three reactions include and how they affect a person with an autistic disorder.

  • An 'overload' is an excessive sensory stimulation caused by too many new images, sounds, smells, or other sensory input introduced to an autistic person in a short period of time. This results in the person's inability to filter out unnecessary stimulants, which on the other hand, causes the mind to become a jumble of impressions and emotions.
  • A "meltdown" can occur as a result of being overloaded. It is characterized by an unrestrained rage outburst, that can easily lead to a shutdown. A meltdown may include yelling and hurling objects at others or experiencing extreme, self-generated harm, as these acts are used to suppress stimuli that the person cannot control, such as social pressure. It is important to remember that such situations shouldn't be considered as misbehaving outbursts, as the affected individuals do not intend to harm someone or destroy anything; they act this way because they are not in control of the overwhelming situation they are put in and need the help of a trusted person as soon as possible. During a meltdown, an autistic person should be given time to calm down in a safe, sensory-friendly environment.

If there is no way to withdraw or completely get away from the overload or the meltdown, this can accumulate high levels of stress that lead to a shutdown. 

  • A shutdown signifies a complete cessation of all activities. Because they're overwhelmed, and their focus has shifted to the most basic functions, people with Autism may not appear themselves during a shutdown. Due to the decreased ability to process what is happening, they may find it hard to communicate as they usually would, resulting in them being mute or having a lot of difficulties forming coherent words.

During one of these stages, an autistic person should not be reprimanded physically or verbally. The best course of action is to wait for the meltdown or shutdown to pass while also ensuring that they find themselves in a familiar or at least calm environment. Interactions can only make matters worse or prolong the duration of a stage.

Anticipating stressful situations and being well-prepared to deal with them when they arise is far more critical. In order to avoid a meltdown or shutdown, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the most effective method is to take preventive measures. Here are some tips, tricks, and holiday gift ideas that will help you and your child to celebrate Thanksgiving happily, Christmas, and every other upcoming holiday this season!

17 Sensory-Friendly Ways to Celebrate The Holidays This Season

5 Things to Consider Before Having a Holiday Celebration With Family And Friends at Home

1. Before The Celebration

As mentioned above, it is crucial to remember that even the slightest changes in the environment can significantly affect your child's well-being. If you want to avoid it, try and slowly introduce some holiday activities you have planned several weeks before the actual onset of the holiday. Try putting some holiday music on in the background while having dinner, invite a few friends over, and pretend to exchange some gifts with them or already set on some of your festive decorations. During this time, it is essential to note how exactly your child feels. If it becomes too much for them, start from the beginning and focus on taking baby steps. Since the autism spectrum consists of many different disorders and syndromes and your child is also a unique individual, it is of great importance that you understand their comfort limit and make sure you never cross it.

2. Planning a Safe Space

If you are planning on inviting extended family and friends with other kids, make sure that yours has a quiet place to play on its own if needed. Since autistic people enjoy but don't crave social interactions, don't force your child to stay surrounded by other kids if it shows any signs of distress. This is also a great moment to explain to other kids why their friend is different and how being different isn't something wrong or something that anyone can control. It is a great lesson to be learned for everyone in life and better done as early as possible.

3. Comfort Food is All.

If your child doesn't like your otherwise brilliant festive menu, make sure you prepare their favorite one for them, Or a menu! Autistic children tend to enjoy routine, and this is greatly visible when it comes to food. Your child probably has 2-3 comforting foods that they love, so providing them with their repeating, an everyday favorite is actually already a big holiday for them!

4. Do Something Together

Try and include your child in as many activities as you can, monitoring them for any signs of distress. Support their good behavior and celebrate every little achievement and progress they make during the holidays. Even if they can't always express their gratitude verbally, their smile is all you need to be sure that they have the best time of their life.

5.  Create New Holiday Traditions

Capture the magic of the holidays in the comfort of your own home. Create amazing holiday memories without having your child exposed to any stressful situations. Using the Virtual Santa Magic platform, you can upload all of your favorite family pictures and transform them into amazing holiday moments to remember forever. The Jingle Bells Bundle is your best bet since it allows you to create something special for your entire family, including your pets! It also allows you to adopt two holiday traditions simultaneously by giving you unlimited access to My Photo Santa Magic, My Photo Pets, My Photo Baby, and it has Story Time included with every Jingle Bells Bundle purchase. Twas the Night Before Christmas will be read to your children by Santa himself as a bedtime story- what a better way to assure a silent night indeed! Visit createholidaymagic.com and purchase today!

5 Outdoors Activities to Enjoy With an Autistic Child This Holiday Season

1. Go Sledding

Pick an excellent, not crowded location near your home and experience together one of the best activities a child could dream of during the winter season. It will be a good bonding experience for both of you, and it may as well remind you of some long-forgotten childhood memories!

2. Go For a Nature Walk.

Do you have a favorite nature getaway location? Even if you don't know, now is the perfect time to explore some beautiful and peaceful places with your child. Prepare some exciting holiday-related questions, and who knows- they might even share with you their biggest Christmas wishes!

3. Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Even if you don't want to, rest assured- your child would love to take on this creative initiative!

4. Enjoy Hot Cocoa Together on The Porch.

There is no difference between children and adults when it comes to hot cocoa. Sit back, relax and let the cocoa warm your hands while this bonding experience warns your heart.

5. Visit Santa at a Special Sensory Friendly Event.

Every child dreams of its visit with the white-bearded man. Gift them with the ultimate holiday experience by taking your child to a special sensory-friendly event at a participating location near you. Celebrate the Santa Magic in a sensitive environment where you will also have the opportunity to support Autism Speaks great cause!

7 Gift Ideas to Make an Autistic Child Happy During This Holiday Season

1. Sensory-Friendly LED Light up Drawing/Writing Board

Endless creative opportunities and subtle light exposure for your child to enjoy

2. Glow in The Dark Stars

Decorate the ceiling in your child's room with some sensory-friendly glow-in-the-dark stars. This will definitely make them gasp in awe the next time you turn the lights off before they go to sleep.

3. Legos™

Your child will love this gift that will stimulate their creativity and make them happy at the same time!

4. Personalized Christmas Mug

Nothing makes drinking hot cocoa more special than drinking it from a customized magic Christmas mug. Using the My Photo Santa Magic, you will be able to create a unique Christmas mug that features your favorite holiday memory!

5. Drawing Supplies

Children with Autism are often incredibly talented when it comes to drawing or any creative activity for that matter. Stimulate your child with a nice set of drawing supplies, and be sure that they will enjoy it.

6. Technology Piece

A tablet or a personal computer is sure to make every child happy, but even more so a child with Autism. These children enjoy the indulging experience tremendously that modern technology offers. You are sure to find many applications created specifically for people on the autistic spectrum, which they will most likely enjoy.

7.  Gift Them Your Time 

Holidays are all about spending time with the people you love, and an autistic child will appreciate this gift as much as anything else on this list. Show them how special they are to you and how much you love them because one thing is sure: even if you don't always understand it, your child loves and appreciates you just the way you are.

The holiday season is a particular time of the year when everyone worldwide celebrates the magic of Christmas. Even so, this time of year can be particularly stressful for families with special needs children. It is important to remember that every family has its rhythm and pace to celebrate the holidays. Do what works best for you and your child - and don't forget that the best gift that you can give them is your love, the same way as their smile is the best one you could receive.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions to celebrate with your child? Do you have any sensory-friendly celebration tips? Share them in the comments below or on Facebook and Instagram.  Want to see some more sensory-friendly ideas for the holiday season? Check out this Pinterest board.

Subscribe to The Holiday Blog today for free so that you make sure you never miss out on creative ideas and fun holiday suggestions.

The Holiday Blog wishes you and your family a calm and loving celebration of the holiday season!

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