Supporting Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder During the Holidays

BlueSprig November 18, 2021

For families with Autism Spectrum Disorder children, the holidays can be a complicated time. For many, the idea of gathering with friends and family is a welcome one, but they may worry about ensuring gatherings are comfortable for their ASD child.

We have compiled a list of thoughtful, helpful ways to support families with ASD children below.

If you’re inviting a family over for a holiday meal, ask them in advance on how to make your environment more comfortable and fun for their family. Ideas include:

  • Help to prepare for change. If the family is traveling to your house, send photos of your home before their visit. For many children, seeing the house and decorations will help them know what to expect and may lessen anxiety.
  • Similarly, it is great to send photos of the other people who attend in advance; doing so will help ASD kids get familiar with people who will be there and learn names.
  • Determine what may distract your guest (i.e., scented candles or music) and offer to put away those items or lower music.
  • Food can be a challenge for many ASD kids. Ask their parent or guardian specifics about how best to accommodate their child’s meal. For example, if portion control is a challenge, offer support monitoring around buffet tables or snack tables or plate their food instead. For the picky eaters, offer to purchase the exact type and brand of food their child will eat/feel comfortable with.
  • Provide a goodie bag with toys that the child can play with throughout their visit. Work with their parent or guardian to discuss toy recommendations. A few ideas include fidget spinners, Play-Doh and slime.
  • Set up a quiet room or sensory retreat in the house with appropriate toys and activities.
  • Talk to other kids attending the celebration about autism and what to expect.
  • Reiterate to your friend / extended family that you don’t expect things to be perfect and welcome their family just the way they are.

Added tips:

If a family is not able to gather outside of their home, there are still ways to support them including:

  • Offer to run errands for families.
  • Offer respite time including overnight stays for families who may have children who wake up often at night.
  • Since some families cannot safely leave decorations up all month, offer to host a “pop up” decoration day by putting up a few fun decorations for the family to enjoy for a day or two.

And most importantly, if your friend or family can’t make the celebration, keep inviting them and reiterate that they are a valued friend and family member.