socked feet standing in front of Christmas tree with lots of presents underneath.

Tips for an Autism-friendly Christmas

Christmas Day is another challenging time for many autistic kids. Routine has disappeared, families go to unexpected places or have unexpected visitors. It’s crowded, noisy, and all these bright coloured packages have suddenly appeared!

Here’s how to help:

  • Pre-warn your child(ren) of any changes to the daily routine, with visual schedules where possible.
  • Use fidget toys, noise cancelling headphones / ear protectors and sensory breaks for calming.
  • Avoid or pre-warn of sensory triggers eg. balloons, music, party poppers, crowds, food smells /textures, unfamiliar people and places, new clothes etc. Try to reduce how many sensory triggers your child(ren) has to cope with.
  • What are your autistic family member’s favourite foods?  Ask them what they would like to eat for the main Christmas meal, and have that on hand.  The Christmas family meal is meant to be enjoyable for everyone, and making sure that your autistic family member is able to enjoy their favourite meal is a great way to make sure they feel included and able to celebrate, rather than being expected to eat an unusual meal that may trigger more sensory issues.
  • Consider labelling gifts with their contents (eg. photo), or have kids help wrap the gifts. Surprises aren’t fun for everyone.
  • Make a list of who will be at Christmas gatherings (including photos where possible), and where you will be going.
  • Write a social story about presents. eg. “Sometimes we get presents we like. Sometimes we get presents we don’t like.” Explain about saying thank you, and what to do.
  • Churches, concerts etc can be overwhelming. Choose seats at the back and end of rows, so that you can leave if needed. Wear noise-cancelling headphones / ear protectors if hearing is sensitive.
  • Don’t force hugs! This is extremely important for learning about consent and protective behaviours to keep your child(ren) safe now and into the future.


Christmas celebrations are often very hard for autistic children, teens and adults. It can be really helpful to plan your Christmas activities as a family (including your autistic family member/s). Decide together what activities you want to do, and how you want to celebrate. Focus on fun, safety, inclusion and the enjoyment of everyone over ‘tradition’.