3 Unique Ways to Celebrate the Holidays with Your Autistic Child

I’ve always loved the holiday season! It’s full beautiful lights, inviting smells, and heart warming music.

No matter what religion you are (or aren’t), December is full of family traditions. From visiting Santa, to decorating gingerbread houses, to attending parades. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!


For the same reasons I described above, the holidays can be stressful for your autistic child. All the sights, smells, and sounds can create a sensory overload for some of our little ones. The change in routines can also be unnerving.

But that doesn’t mean your family should miss out on the wonder of the holidays. Instead, try getting a bit more creative with your family’s activities, and remember to adjust your expectations. Here are a few unique suggestions:

1. Rent your own Santa!

Who says you have to visit Santa at the mall? Sure, that’s the traditional way to do it. But standing in line for over an hour just doesn’t seem worth it when your child is stressed to the max.

I never know how my kids will react to unfamiliar faces, and waiting in line is never fun.

Fortunately, sensory-friendly Santa events are becoming more widespread. Your family can make a reservation to spend a little more time warming up to Santa. Check with the local malls or your local Autism Society of America to find events in your area.


What if you made a new tradition? What if you brought Santa to your house? We have plenty of Santas-for-hire in our area. Ask around on local Facebook groups or Neighborhood apps for suggestions and references.

Invite other children if you want. You can collaborate ahead of time so Santa can bring each child a special gift. You can coach Santa to be calm and patient, so the kids feel more comfortable.

You can even have your Santa make crafts with the kids. This is sure to create a lasting memory for your whole family.

2. Go out to eat.

My family had the best Thanksgiving this year. We went out to eat! Seventeen of us, including six children, met at a restaurant to eat and socialize.

Since we had a large party with children, the restaurant set us up in a private room. Our kids had space to move around while we ate and talked.

And the best part… we didn’t have to prepare or clean up. When we were done, we just left. And we had plenty of leftovers to bring home. It was the most stress-free family gathering I’ve ever attended.

If you’re thinking of going out for your holiday meal, make reservations months in advance. More restaurants are doing this every year, but space is definitely limited.


3. Take a bird’s-eye view of the Christmas parade.

As a kid, I always enjoyed attending our city’s annual Christmas parade. I loved listening to the bands and watching the decorated floats pass by.

But for some children, parades aren’t that simple to watch.┬áThe cold weather, bright lights, loud noises, and crowds could overload your child’s senses, triggering a meltdown. You may consider skipping the parades altogether.

Before you consider skipping this holiday tradition, consider watching the parade from a different place. There are lots of hotels surrounding our city’s parade route. Renting a room in December isn’t expensive at all.

My kids can see the floats and emergency vehicles from a safe distance, without the loud noises or crowds.

If you don’t want to shell out any money, call around to see if you can view the parade from a lobby or private room. Let them know your situation. People can be very accommodating during the holiday season.


All children deserve to enjoy this magical season. As their parents, we sometimes need think outside-the-box to make sure that happens. Just remember to stay flexible and follow your child’s lead.

I hope this article gave you some unique ideas for your holiday season. What are some new traditions your family has adopted? I’d love to hear about them.

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9 Replies to “3 Unique Ways to Celebrate the Holidays with Your Autistic Child”

  1. I love your ideas! I do know that, for us, the Santa visit wouldn’t have worked at all! David was very averse to costumes, so having Santa visit would have been terrifying.
    So the key is paying attention to what your children can and can’t handle.
    The parade idea is perfect! And who wouldn’t want to spend a day at a hotel — I’d look for one with a lovely warm pool and really take advantage of the mini-vacation!
    And that holiday dinner idea?? I’m IN!! I just want to know why I wasn’t invited!

  2. It’s worth it to get on the mailing lists for various performance venues, arts councils, etc., and keep in touch with other parents with kids on the spectrum. My wife learned from a friend of a sensory-friendly performance of the Nutcracker. My wife and daughter and our friend’s family went to the performance – the theater was a quarter-full, a lot of kids wandering around doing what they do, but my daughter loved it.

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