What do you love most about the holidays? Perhaps it is the smell of freshly baked gingerbread cookies, or the sound of your favorite holiday songs. These sensory experiences trigger pleasant memories that make this time of year enjoyable. However, it may not be so pleasant for your child on the Autism Spectrum. A recent report from HealthDay mentions that sensory overload during the holidays can trigger major meltdowns.  There are many ways to prevent them, however.

Utilize Sensory Tools and Activities

In a previous blog entry, Social Skills for the Holidays, we mentioned the importance of using coping skills and tools to reduce anxiety stemming from social events. Many of these skills involve sensory objects, such as headphones and fidget toys. Integrating these tools into daily life during the holidays will help make them more manageable!

The holidays also provide ample opportunities for sensory integration!  Friendship Circle, Brain Balance Centers, the Center for Engaging Autism, and One Place for Special Needs have some excellent suggestions for sensory activities connected to the holiday season. These include:


  • Baking: Baking is an excellent sensory activity! Brain Balance Centers and One Place for Special Needs mentions that baking provides opportunities for heavy work (kneading, pouring, stirring) that helps with proprioceptive input. Plus, they’ll get a sweet treat at the end!
  • Outdoor Activities: Holidays in New England come with the chance of snow. Snowy weather is a great time for sensory integration! Amy Hengstebeck of Friendship Circle suggests making snowmen, shoveling the snow, and sledding as activities to help your child. They’re also great ways to get some exercise! If these activities don’t interest your child, they can learn some brand new skills – skiing or snowboarding! Our friends at Ski Sundown have an Adaptive program that provides ski and snowboard lessons to people with physical, cognitive, or developmental disabilities. Check out this link to learn more!
  • Use Those Leftovers: The left over boxes from your child’s presents can be reused! The Center for Engaging Autism says your child can make boxes into blocks, trains, or wagons for relay races! Don’t forget about the plastic bottles  from your holiday parties – they make perfect pins for a game of indoor bowling!
  • Crafting: Crafts are always a great thing to do during the holidays, and can provide ways to work on fine motor skills. Do you want to reuse the holiday cards you get this season? Have your child cut out sections of the card and paste it to a small piece of cardstock. Now you will have a new name tag to use for next year’s presents!

Inclusion Is Key!

The holidays are ripe with experiences that allow for social learning, and can be modified to meet your child’s sensory needs! All the resources referenced in this article stress making adjustments so that your child can be included in holiday events. One suggestion is to bring food that your child will eat to a holiday dinner if there is a concern about what is being served.

Another suggestion is to find “sensory friendly” holiday activities for your child to participate in. During the month of December, many malls will host a “Sensory Santa” experience for children on the Autism Spectrum. Keep an eye out to see when one will be in your area!


Do you have any sensory suggestions to add? Leave a comment on our blog!