‘Tis the Season

The holiday season is a joyful time of year for most people. However, this can be a very challenging and hectic time for us as parents.  Last-minute shopping trips.  Taking our children to parties and large family gatherings.  Even trying to get that perfect photo on Santa’s lap when he refuses to cooperate, are stressful events to say the least.

This is particularly true for children who also have sensory processing issues and may be overwhelmed by the overabundance of lights, sights, sounds and smells during the holidays.  This distress can often impact the entire family.

Maintaining structure and routine for your child may not always be possible during the holidays, but there are ways to help reduce your child’s anxiety while increasing your family’s enjoyment of the holiday season.

Here are some helpful tips to help reduce stress for your child during the holidays.

Prepare in Advance

You know your child best. Anticipating for meltdowns and using various strategies to get your child through their anxiety is key to minimizing these stressful situations.

Children with autism are creatures of habit and do very well with routines. The holiday’s can disrupt a child’s schedule which can lead to major meltdowns. One thing that works well for many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are social or personal stories. Creating a personal story about the holiday can help your child prepare for the events and teach positive behaviour .

Prepare holiday foods in advance to determine what your child does or does not like. Doing this may help them become more comfortable with the food selection.

If you’re planning to go to the home of a friend or relative for the holiday, take your child to their house at least once prior to the gathering. Children with autism generally do better when they have familiarity with their surroundings.

Family Photos

Set up in advance and be fast! Encourage the photo session to be set up ahead of time with the individual placed into the frame at the last second, requiring the least amount of stress, transition, and patience.

A 10 minute photo session can accomplish a lot. Want to do more? Take a break for 10 minutes and then do another 5 minute photo session.

Sights and Sounds

If your child has sensory issues and is over-stimulated by lights and sounds, try keeping the lights dim – if you can – and set the music to the lowest possible decibel that your child can tolerate.

If you’re going to relative’s house, notify them of these tips prior to your visit so that they can adjust their home accordingly. Although you may feel as though you’re inconveniencing others, remember that you are trying to set up your child for success. A happy child means a happy holiday for all.

Consulting with your child’s OT can be of great help when it comes to sensory issues and the holidays.


Prepare your child’s favourite foods and snacks in case your child refuses to eat the holiday meal. If you are going to the home of a relative or friend, take your child’s favourite foods and snacks with you.

Scheduling an early dinner or eating in advance of a family get-together could be helpful to your child as well. Reward your child throughout the event and reinforce positive behaviours.

Use Visuals

Using ABA techniques such as: “First, we will do this,” “Then, we will do this,” etc. – accompanied by visuals – could also help ease any anxiety your child may have when facing a situation that is not in his or her daily repertoire.

Choice boards, ‘I want’ boards, and mini schedules are great tools as well.

We often put pressure on ourselves to make the holidays perfect, which is unrealistic. In the end, the most important thing to remember is that the holidays are a time to cherish one another and the joy of being together. Whether it’s scaling back or starting new traditions, celebrate in a way that makes the most sense for your family and is something that you, your child and the entire family will all enjoy.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!