December 5, 2023

Embracing the Holidays: Activities for Children with Autism

3352Embracing the Holidays: Activities for Children with Autism

Embracing the Holidays: Activities for Children with Autism

By Maria Lopez, Social Media Manager, The Menta Education Group

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holiday season is the most festive and joyous time of the year, marked by various celebrations and traditions for many families. But it can also be very overwhelming trying to entertain your family during winter break, and it can be harder for families with children under the spectrum. Planning holiday activities for families with children on the autism spectrum requires consideration of sensory sensitivities, routine preferences, individual needs, and the best attitude.

Engaging in holiday activities can be a wonderful way for families with children on the autism spectrum to create meaningful and enjoyable experiences. Keep in mind the individual preferences and sensitivities of the child, and tailor the activities accordingly, be flexible for change. Here are some holiday ideas or activity ideas to make this season as joyful as possible:

Sensory-Friendly Decorations
Create a sensory-friendly holiday environment with soft, calming lights, and decorations that are visually appealing without being overwhelming. Allow the child to participate in decorating their own space or a small tree with items that have varying textures.

Social Stories
Use social stories or visual schedules to prepare children for holiday events. This can help reduce anxiety by providing a clear understanding of what to expect during each activity, they also contain great visuals for support. There are many social stories online that explain the change in schedule during the holidays.

Adaptive Holiday Crafts
Choose holiday crafts that cater to sensory preferences. For example, making ornaments with different textures, using scented markers, or incorporating tactile elements like beads or fabric. Pinterest provides many holiday crafts ideas perfect for any afternoon family fun.

Holiday Movies or Shows
Sensory-friendly movies are designed to provide a more inclusive and comfortable experience for individuals with sensory sensitivities, such as those with autism. These screenings typically feature adjustments like lower sound levels, dimmed lights, and a more accepting attitude toward audience members who may need to move around or make noise. Some things to remember for a fun family movie night are:
-Choose the right movie
-Volume control
-Create a comfortable seating area, environment
-Prepare snacks and sensory items (playdough, fidgets, etc)
-Offer breaks

Below you will find a link for movie ideas for the perfect family night:

Outdoor Outing Fun
Whether you are planning on going on a family vacation or staying in town, always keep in mind destinations that are known to be autism-friendly. There are places and attractions that may offer sensory-friendly spaces, quiet areas, and accommodations that cater to the needs of individuals with special needs or sensory sensitivity. If you are staying in town and want a fun family outing, visits to parks, beaches, or nature reserves where children can explore and engage with their senses in a comfortable environment, maybe throw in a scavenger hunt activity.

Quiet Time or Downtime Days
For those days when children are not in the mood to go out or have any holiday activity, creating a quiet time area can be very helpful. In this area you can be playing calming music, have comfortable seating, sensory toys handy, snacks, and/or deem lights. You may also add a sensory holiday box to add that Christmas spirit. This can support the child’s need to have a relaxing day, charge up some energy to continue the holiday fun.

Holiday Cooking Activities
Baking is a great way to enjoy family time during the holidays. There are many different recipes that are easy to make. Adding visuals to the activity allows children to engage in hands-on activities like rolling dough or decorating cookies. You can turn this cooking activity into an outing to the store for a life skills learning opportunity. Have a list of supplies with visuals, have children shop, pay and take it home for a holiday baking fun. Some ideas for baking activities:
-Simple cookie decorating
-Sugar Cone Christmas Tree
-Gingerbread houses
-Holiday themed-cupcakes
-Hot Chocolate bar
-Seasonal Fruit Kabobs

Plan Ahead and include the children in the planning
Create a detailed schedule so that everyone knows what to expect. Include visual schedules and social stories to help children with autism understand the routine. Always be open to change in schedule, remember, children will not always be in the mood to do what you had already planned. Have an alternative itinerary, visual schedule, or other options for those days where things might not go as planned.

When planning for some holiday fun, remember that every child is unique, so it’s essential to observe and adapt activities based on their specific preferences and sensitivities. Having communication with the child before any activities is important to be proactive in how the activity may go. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and enjoying activities with our children under the autism spectrum can make it extra special.