How to Help Kids with Autism at Large Gatherings‍

How to Help Kids with Autism at Large Gatherings‍

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays come with many festivities, outings, family gatherings and travel. For many of us, it’s very exciting! Yet all the commotion and new faces can be overwhelming for kids.

There are many reasons why a child with autism spectrum disorder may struggle at holiday gatherings. These include, but aren’t limited to, changes in routine, new people, foods, activities, and sensory overload or feeling overstimulated.

We don’t want kids to miss out on the fun. So here are some tips to include children with autism in your family gatherings this year.

Have snacks you know the child loves

Some kids with ASD have sensory issues that make it hard to try new foods. Ask the family beforehand to see what foods the child is comfortable with and will eat. Some kids will only be comfortable with a certain brand of their safe food, such as a particular brand of chicken nuggets or only the small bags of a specific brand of crackers. Always confirm everything with the family beforehand.  

Show photos before the event

Change is tough for kids on the spectrum, so seeing pictures of the home and interior layout can be beneficial. Sending pictures of the space is a great way to increase a child’s comfort. 

Have a “quiet spot”

A child with autism may need to take breaks at some point during the family gathering. Always have a safe and quiet spot in your home. Pillows, blankets, and toys are great additions to the room or area. 

Provide sensory objects and toys

Create a small party bag of child-safe sensory objects and toys, like play dough or putty, stress balls, slime, pop-its, or fidget spinners. You can even hand party bags out to all children who attend the event so as to not single out the child with autism. These sensory toys can be a great distraction and comfort to kids. 

Be mindful of noise and decor 

Children with autism can get much more overstimulated easily with bright lights, strong scents, and loud noises. New people and larger gatherings are already quite overwhelming, so try to avoid any ‘unnecessary’ decor. This is something you may want to discuss with parents or caregivers, as sensory issues can vary from person to person.

Be understanding and flexible

Know that not everything may go as planned or how you would have liked it to. Understand if the child needs to take a break and go for a walk or if the family needs to leave early. Don’t feel guilty about anything–you did the best you could and the rest if out of your control. The best thing is to have a positive attitude and of course the holiday spirit.