Celebrating the festive season with a person with autism.

Tips to manage autism at christmasThe festive season can be an opportunity for fun and good cheer as we change our environment and behaviour. However, for some people with autism the change of environment can also be overwhelming and stressful. Here are my top ten tips for a multi-sensory Christmas.

  1. Start slowly and gradually – don’t introduce all the decorations at once. This can make the environment feel unfamiliar and increase a sense of disorientation.
  2. Be flexible – Don’t plan too much as you may need to adapt as you go along.
  3. Encourage the person with autism to take part in putting up decorations – they may not do it quite like you planned but doing a job and seeing it through can give them a great sense of achievement.
  4. The Christmas calendar – create a Christmas calendar which details when things are going to happen, at what time and when they will finish.
  5. Getting out and about – going to see the Christmas lights can be overwhelming because of the noise and other people around you. Try viewing the lights from a car or bus where you have your own space and can control the noise level.
  6. Party games – if you are going to a party perhaps practice the games that will be played before hand to help the person with autism prepare
  7. Being part of Christmas – if unfamiliar people are visiting explain who these people are and provide a photo. For your visitors, give them ideas of what they can talk about with the person with autism.
  8. Quiet space – create spaces and opportunities for the person with autism to withdraw to if the party is getting too noisy.
  9. A multi-sensory Christmas – Christmas is an opportunity to great an multi-sensory atmosphere. We focus a lot on lights but what about the smell of cloves and cinnamon, carols with a slow tempo, textures of making holly wreaths, baking mince pies.
  10. Make sure you have some quiet time too – put on some favourite music, dim the lights and have a good multi-sensory holiday.
Lesley Collier

About Lesley Collier

Lesley holds a Senior Lectureship in Occupational Therapy within the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Southampton where her research portfolio includes sensory processing in people with cognitive impairment and the use of multi-sensory stimulation.

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