Reducing Holiday Stress for Children with Autism

The holiday season can be stressful for everyone. With all of the changes in schedules, the crowds, bright lights, visits from people we don’t see often, and just the general hubbub of the season, holidays can be even more challenging for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their family. Below are a few tips to help navigate the obstacles the holidays can bring!

Stick to a Routine: 

  • Discuss changes in routine in advance and use visuals to help, if necessary.
  • Make and stick to a schedule and don’t forget to factor in travel time.
  • Pick and choose events, it’s ok not to do everything.
  • Take your child’s favorite toys and activities along to increase your child’s comfort level in unfamiliar places.
  • Be okay with saying, “no thanks” to invitations that you know may be too stressful for your child or family.

Avoid Sensory Challenges: 

  • Avoid crowded shopping centers, hire a sitter, or shop online instead of taking your child shopping with you.
  • Turn off flashing lights on trees and houses, keep holiday music low, and look for sensory-friendly holiday events.
  • Take earphones and/or sunglasses to parties and other events.
  • Decorate gradually, so it’s not so overwhelming for your child.


  • Giving and accepting gifts
  • Taking turns
  • Opening gifts and expressing gratitude
  • Other expected behaviors that may be required at events such as a religious service or social gathering
  • Always have a Plan B for events.
  • Have Santa visit your home, instead of visiting a big mall.
  • At the beginning of a party or event find a “quiet place” you can move to if necessary.
  • Have an “exit plan” worked out just in case you have to leave early if things become overwhelming.
  • Remember that your child’s tolerance level for things is different than yours, they aren’t trying to “ruin” the celebration.


  • Try to keep things simple.
  • Create new traditions that work for everyone in your immediate family.
  • Remember to take time out to do special things with siblings.
  • Take time for yourself: It’s easy to get so busy with your child’s needs that you forget about your own. Family and friends often look for ways to help, now is the perfect time to ask. Make sure you get to do the very special activity that you look forward to each holiday season.

By Kristen Colyer, BCBA, Director of Children’s Services

From all of us at the Infinity Center, Happy Holidays!