As Christmas approaches, parents know that for their child diagnosed with autism, Christmas ornaments, activities, Christmas trees, and more can bring excitement for some and anxiety for others. So, what are some ways to make Christmas ornaments more autism-friendly?
The Christmas ornament has a long-standing history for many people worldwide and throughout history. For many, this is beautiful and nostalgic. For a child with autism who has sensory sensitivities, Christmas ornaments could be a nightmare.
What are Some Sensitivities That Autistic Children Experience During Christmas?
Since autism is a spectrum disorder, an autism diagnosis will look different for each person. What one person seeks out, another may find the same activity overstimulating. That is something that can occur around Christmas time.
Some things that may be overstimulating could be:
- bright and flashing lights
- loud and sudden noises and music
- different smells like cookies, candles, and pine from the Christmas tree
- the itchy feel of a particular sweater
- loud talking, and many people
- bright and fragile ornaments
- the uncomfortable feel of an ornament
- annoying jingling bells
- noisy parade sounds like sirens and honks from vehicles
Making Christmas Ornaments Autism-Friendly
Look around at your home and the decorations you may have used in the past. Ask yourself these questions:
- What materials are they made of?
- Can they break easily if grabbed too tightly?
- Are they made of scratchy or rough material?
- Are they electric, or do they pose a threat of shock if bitten/broken?
- Are the lights too bright, or do certain ornaments make music when you touch them?
These factors might be an issue for a child with autism.
Try to find ornaments that are made of stronger material, like plastic instead of glass. Move glass or breakable ornaments to a higher place on the tree or in your home.
Replace strings of lights with duller lights or remove them altogether. Look for small fidget items that might be holiday-themed, and place some on the tree’s lower branches or in an area where your child can access them.
Remove any noisy or musical ornaments from the tree and place them in an area where your child won’t be bothered by the sound.
Plan Ahead for Decorating Day
Decorating the house can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming for everyone. For a child with autism who has sensory issues, planning ahead for decorating may be necessary.
Use social stories or visual supports such as pictures or schedules to explain when the various decorations may be incorporated into the home.
For example, you might explain through a social story how the tree will be placed in the room. Show your child how lights and garlands may be placed on the tree. Explain how the ornaments will go next.
Breaking down the decorating process may be helpful to eliminate some of the overwhelming parts of it.
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Other Ideas and Considerations
Making and picking out the perfect Christmas ornament can be a big part of the fun and tradition of Christmas. This can also be an overstimulating activity for some children with autism.
Mariah Martinez is the Community Outreach and Inclusion Specialist at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan. The zoo has a monthly program called FALCONERS for people with special needs.
When planning any craft or hands-on activity, Martinez has the following considerations:
- use flat shapes because they are easier to handle, especially with ball-shaped ornaments
- provide options for adhering pieces, like glue sticks or even glue dots
- provide an array of materials like markers, crayons, and colored pencils
- decide what is being sent home with participants, their developmental and differing needs considered
- use fun stickers and even event-specific stickers
Autism and Christmas: Final Ideas
There are several things to consider when planning to look at and make a Christmas ornament.
Some considerations include:
- pay attention to the texture of items used for decorating;
- skip the glitter if there is an aversion, there are glittery stickers that don’t come off;
- provide multiple types of adhesives like glue sticks and glue dots;
- use flat shapes, which can be easier to handle and apply;
- provide an array of crayons, markers, and colored pencils for crafts;
- double-check and make sure to take all ages and abilities into consideration if sending crafts home.
Educating Loved Ones
Explain to family, friends, and guests beforehand about your child’s sensory issues with certain lights, textures, sounds, and smells.
That way, no one enters the home with a “special gift” for your child that turns out to be a musical ornament or a toy that flashes.
This will also eliminate people asking why your tree has no lights or garland or why the glass ornament gifted last year isn’t being displayed. Informing others ahead of time will eliminate any surprises.
Resources and Support
There are many organizations and resources to find help or support during the holiday time. Many online communities provide helpful tips or a place where parents and caregivers can share or learn from others’ experiences.
Click here to find out more
Your child’s doctor, therapist, or teacher may have great information or resources. They may also be a wealth of information for creating the right social story for your unique holiday decorating scenario.
All Things Considered
When it comes to creating a sensory-inclusive environment, especially when dealing with Christmas ornaments and decorating, there are plenty of things to consider.
These considerations can make a world of difference for the participants and make it more inclusive for them and their individual needs.
Q: How do I make Christmas autism-friendly?
A: To make Christmas autism-friendly, consider using soft, sensory-friendly decorations and create a predictable and calm environment. Using visual schedules and providing clear communication about holiday plans can also contribute to a more inclusive and enjoyable celebration for individuals with autism.
Q: How to choose toys for an autistic child?
A: When selecting toys for an autistic child, consider their sensory preferences and choose items with simple designs and textures. Opt for toys that match their interests and provide opportunities for engagement and skill-building.
Q: What color is best for autism?
A: Avoid using bright reds and yellows at home for autistic children as they find them too stimulating. Instead, use calming colors like greens, blues, soft oranges, and neutrals to create a soothing environment.
Q: How do autistic people react to Christmas gifts?
A: For some autistic individuals, receiving a gift can be stressful due to the expectation to express gratitude, even if they dislike it. Additionally, other reasons, such as sensory preferences and individual characteristics, may cause them to feel uncomfortable in these situations.