Surviving Christmas with a Child with ASD

December 5, 2016 Published by

As Christmas comes around once again things can get pretty hectic for any parent. But the random routines this time of year are even more difficult if, like me, you have a child on the autistic spectrum.

What with the festively themed days at school, plays to take part in, friends and family to visit and more, my daughter can be left feeling unsettled. Christmas will never be easy but with a few good techniques and enough preparation, we can survive.

Advent calendars

The change in routine can be tricky and it’s sometimes difficult to get your child up and off to school when they know it’s going to be another stressful day. So I use an advent calendar as bribery – she can only open the door when she’s ready to leave in the morning. And it usually works.

“Lego advent calendars are a hit – good motivation if they can only open after getting dressed in the morning.”

Prepare and plan for Christmas outings

“We found putting (our child) in charge of where some decorations and all Christmas cards go has really helped.”

We use a visual calendar to map out the one-off events, trips and family gatherings in the festive season. I’ll also talk my daughter through the day beforehand – where we will be going,  what we will be doing – and if I can I’ll show her photos too. It helps to have a plan B (and C) in case she has trouble coping with the new environment.

School pantomimes and nativities


It’s worth checking whether or not your child wants to be part of their school nativity and bringing it up with the school. We make sure that there’s a plan in case she needs a break, so she can go next door for a little while away from the hustle and bustle of rehearsals.

Get them involved

I’ve found that putting my daughter in charge of something that seems important – like where some of the decorations and Christmas cards go – helps a lot. It makes sure she’s really involved in the preparations.


Family gatherings

“Having a planned space allocated to him that he can go to for ‘time out’ and having a screen on standby to help him de-stress.”

Social gatherings are noisy and can result in sensory overload. Being at home makes life easier because my daughter can escape to her room, but when we visit friends and family ourselves we try to plan a quiet area for her to use instead. I also go armed with a tablet and headphones, because she loves listening to music to distract herself.

Most family and friends know what to expect but I try to tell them beforehand that she might need a break, just so they don’t feel awkward or take it personally when she’s not playing Christmas games with the rest of the group.


Christmas dinner

“I let my daughter have chicken nuggets for her Christmas dinner.”

Christmas day dinner is another minefield if your child is a selective eater or has food intolerances. Be prepared to plan around what they can and can’t eat, possibly cooking them a separate meal, even if it’s chicken nuggets, the most important thing is that they enjoy it too).

Rework Father ChristmasFather Christmas with Child

Some aspects of the Father Christmas tale – like a bearded man climbing down the chimney in the middle of the night – might be confusing or even scary if taken literally. So when my daughter was younger and we read Christmas stories before bed, I would tweak the story slightly.


A lot of us, when we receive a gift we don’t want, will put on a smile and say thank you. This social aspect of gift giving can be very hard for children with ASD; they can be very vocal when they don’t like their gift, or think someone else’s is better than theirs. At home we use role play to practise giving and receiving presents in preparation.

Family and friends may need some guidance on what to give your child as well. For example, a few years ago my friend’s son (who also has ASD) asked his uncle for an old Guinness book of records. My friend had to explain that it would need to be that one, and that one only – any other Guinness book of record would not be right.

Photo Credit: Joseph, Nativity Play, 2010 by Peter C licensed under CC BY 2.0
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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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