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With the holidays come a change in routine, family visits and travel. Here are some tips on how to make it all as stress-free as possible.

Christmas can be the most exciting time of the year. The season can start as early as November and is full of music, lights, presents and fun. But for children with autism, the festivities can be too much and may leave them distressed.

Thankfully there are ways you can slowly introduce the festive fun in a relaxed way. These ones below are my tips – what are yours?

Visiting Santa

Meeting the man in red and giving him your Christmas list can be truly magical! But loud music, long queues and flashing lights can be stressful for anyone, let alone children with autism.

A few shopping malls, garden centres and family attractions have cottoned on to this problem and offer ‘silent Santa’ visits in a more serene environment but there are still many who don’t.

So how can you visit St Nick without a special autism-friendly session?

A bit of planning, might just do the trick.

  1. Firstly, talk to your child about Santa and Christmas beforehand. Maybe even show your child some photos.
  2. Find a local grotto experience that offers pre-booked time slots to see Santa. Many grottos offer this and it eliminates long queues for you and your family.
  3. Although it’s tempting to plan your visit as close to the big day as you can, try and book your visit in late November or very early December so that crowds will be minimal.
  4. If you’re really concerned about your child being overwhelmed on the day, one idea is to visit in advance and ask the staff for photos from previous years’ grottos and Santa so your little one knows exactly what to expect.
  5. A quick word in the ear of an elf on the day of your visit can also ensure that Santa doesn’t agree to any outrageous gift requests or make any comment that might alarm your child.

Christmas shopping

No one likes Christmas shopping in late December. It’s busy and chaotic with frantic people trying to grab last minute bargains. If you want your child to participate in the shopping experience by maybe choosing a gift for a sibling or parent, there are ways to go about this.

  1. Again, planning is key to avoid any stress and for Christmas shopping, aim to go as early as you can. And If you can avoid weekends, even better.
  2. Children with autism usually like to plan themselves and know in advance what will be happening. Choose one shop for them to select a gift for a loved one and be clear with the budget. It helps if the shop you select sells things all within a similar price range. By giving your child a choice on what to buy as a gift for someone will give them a sense of independence.
  3. Of course, the obvious way to avoid crazy crowds at Christmas is to shop online. You can still allow your child to choose a gift for a loved one by letting them browse the website after you can pre-selected the price range.


Spending hours in the car, train or even flights are common at Christmas to visit loved ones. Hosting Christmas at home can avoid all that but sometimes the only way to spend the holidays with family is by going to them.

  1. If you are travelling by train or plane, calling ahead to make special arrangement will make the trip easier. You can discuss your needs and request certain accommodations such as speedy boarding.
  2. A checklist is always wise to make sure you don’t leave anything behind that’s important to your child. Children with autism sometimes have items that they can’t do without such as a blanket or favourite toy. It’s also a good idea to bring along items to reward your child for good behaviour.
  3. Think of your daily routine and bring anything you can to help your child through the day. Things like snacks, food, books and electronic devices can help to keep them preoccupied.

A change in routine

Whether you travel or not, Christmas time will always bring a change in routine. School, nursery and other activities stop, there are lots of people to see and the house looks and smells different with the decorations and festive food.

  1. If your child if a bit anxious about the season, you can create something called a social story to prepare them for what will happen. You can use photos to show your child who will be coming to the house and how the house will look with the tree up and presents around.

There are lots of websites and apps that can help parents create personalised social stories with their own pictures. You can find them by searching ‘social stories’ on Google.

  1. Another way to fully prepare your child for change is by using a timetable along with photos of clocks to explain what time a family member may arrive or what time dinner will be served.
  2. Whatever you do, planning ahead and letting your child know what to expect can really help them get used to the new routine over Christmas.

Taking the Time

No matter what your plans are this Christmas, taking some extra time with your child can help them feel less anxious and look forward to the season with you.

Talking to them about what’s to come and helping them feel involved without being overwhelmed will help everyone enjoy things more.

But always know your child. If you have to give them cereal instead of Christmas dinner, not wrap any presents and keep the Christmas tunes turned off, it doesn’t matter.

Follow their lead and do what’s best for your family.

Wishing all of you the best to you and your family this holiday season, and if you want to share your tips for the holidays with other parents like you, you can use the space below!

The Author

Petra Ecclestone is a Philanthropist and mother of three. She is founder and Director of the Petra Eccleston Foundation, providing services and support for young children with suspected or diagnosed autism and their families.

Copyright © 2019 The Brightest Star. Content curated by Petra Ecclestone