Creating a Sensory-Friendly Holiday Season for Individuals with Autism

The holiday season, with its bright lights, loud music, and bustling crowds, can be overwhelming for individuals with autism due to sensory sensitivities. Creating a sensory-friendly environment is crucial to ensure that everyone can enjoy the festive season. This article draws on insights from Rise Up For Autism to explore strategies for reducing sensory overload, emphasizing the importance of accommodating the unique needs of those with autism during these times. The goal is to foster an inclusive atmosphere where the joy of the season is accessible to all, aligning with the principles outlined in the Sensory-Friendly Holiday Season for Autism guide.

Understanding Sensory Sensitivities

  • Sensory Overload: The holidays often amplify sensory stimuli, which can lead to discomfort or distress for some individuals with autism.
  • Individual Needs: Sensory sensitivities vary widely; what may be overwhelming for one person may be pleasant for another.

Tips for a Sensory-Friendly Holiday

Limit Decorations

  • Visual Simplicity: Opt for simpler decorations to avoid visual overload. Soft, warm lighting can be more comforting than flashing lights.
  • Decorating Together: Involve individuals with autism in the decorating process, allowing them to choose what they find comfortable.

Manage Sound Levels

  • Lower Volume: Keep music at a lower volume or select softer, instrumental pieces to prevent auditory overload.
  • Quiet Zones: Designate a quiet room or area where individuals can go to take a break from the noise and activity.

Consider Food Sensitivities

  • Familiar Foods: Include familiar and preferred foods in your holiday menu to accommodate dietary preferences and sensitivities.

Plan for Crowds and Social Gatherings

  • Small Gatherings: Smaller, more intimate gatherings may be less overwhelming than large parties.
  • Preparation and Schedules: Prepare individuals with autism for upcoming events by discussing what to expect and maintaining routines as much as possible.

Introduce New Traditions

  • Sensory-Friendly Activities: Create new holiday traditions that are sensory-friendly, such as indoor “snowball” fights with soft, plush balls or creating holiday crafts that engage the senses in a gentle manner.

Communication Tools

  • Use of Visual Schedules: Visual schedules can help individuals with autism understand and prepare for holiday activities.
  • Sign Language or Picture Cards: For non-verbal individuals, using sign language or picture cards can aid communication during gatherings.

Creating Inclusive Environments

  • Inclusivity Training: Encourage family members and friends to learn about sensory sensitivities and how to create welcoming environments.
  • Advocacy: Advocate for sensory-friendly public events, such as quiet hours at holiday markets or sensory-sensitive visits with Santa.


The holiday season should be a time of joy and celebration for everyone, including individuals with autism. By adopting sensory-friendly practices, families and communities can create an inclusive atmosphere that respects and accommodates the diverse needs of all participants. Resources like Rise Up For Autism offer valuable guidance on making the holiday season enjoyable for individuals with sensory sensitivities, ensuring that the spirit of the season is accessible to everyone.

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