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Holiday Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder 

ABA Therapy Placentia

Children at Christmas tree and fireplace on Xmas eve. Family with kids celebrating Christmas at home. Boy and girl in matching sweater decorating xmas tree and opening presents. Holiday gifts for kid.

The holidays can be a fun but difficult time for children with autism and their families.  Below are some holiday tips for children with Autism.  Whatever your family celebrates, these tips can help you have a successful and fun holiday season!

Holiday Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

1.    Explain the Holiday Traditions 

Children with autism may not understand the concept of the holiday that your family is currently celebrating. It is a good idea to explain the current holiday you will be celebrating. For example, if your family will be celebrating Christmas, you may want to discuss the concept of Christmas, and explain how the holiday works.

2.    Set Expectations 

Discuss what is expected of the child before the holiday begins. When children have a set of rules to follow, it can make things easier. For example, explaining that the presents under the Christmas tree can only be opened on Christmas, and we must wait to open them. You can even choose to list out the rules in writing or in pictures. It is usually best to make sure you give expectations about what to do, and not just tell them things to avoid doing. Explanations of expectations should be direct and straightforward. An example of this would be, “If your aunt gives you a present you don’t like, say thank you and give her a hug anyway.”

3.    Practice in Advance 

Practice what you will be doing on the holiday if there may be a lot of people and friends present at the holiday activities. Practice going over social skill strategies. You could practice saying, “Thank you,” after receiving a gift.  Another example is if your family is celebrating Christmas, you can practice how to give gifts politely, as well as how to politely open and respond to gifts. Practice scenarios about how to respond if you don’t like a gift may also be helpful for some children.

4.    Tell Your Family 

If you will be having family over for the holidays, it is a good idea to talk to them about your child.  You can give tips for interacting with your child, including things that are helpful, like talking clearly, or things that are not helpful, like correcting them in front of friends. Let them know things your child enjoys, and things they might not enjoy too much.

5.    Plan for Travel

Traveling around the holidays can be stressful. It is a good idea to have lots of preferred toys and books readily available for your child. This may help them through the traveling process, to keep them from boredom and to give you items you can use to reinforce appropriate behavior. Discuss travel arrangements with your child to prepare them. You might let them know, for example, how long the car ride will be and what they can earn along the way if they are doing what the parents say to do. You can create your own social story, which is a small book with pictures explaining appropriate behaviors in a certain situation, to help prepare them.

6.    Keep Your Child’s Needs in Mind When Decorating  

Some children with autism have trouble with change. It may be a good idea to decorate the house in stages, to give your child time to get used to the change. Some decorations can be overwhelming or be overstimulating (e.g., musical decorations). Be cautious of decorations that have loud music, bright lights, or other things that may cause a child to be distracted or upset. When decorations are breakable, consider putting them out of reach.

7.    Plan Some Breaks

Around the Holidays, there are often lots of lights, loud music, and a ton of people around. These are a few things that may cause some sensory overload for your child. It is good to know what your child’s triggers are what symptoms they may show when they experience sensory overload. Planning breaks from large family events can be a great strategy.  You may even want to choose an entire day where you and the family are together in a calmer environment to let everyone unwind, like in your own home.


Most of all, make sure to have fun and be with those you love! The holidays a wonderful time for families to come together and celebrate. Enjoy your holiday season!

We hoped you enjoyed these Holiday Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and if you ever have any questions or concerns, please contact Acuity Behavior Solutions at (714) 696-2862.  Or check out our Facebook page!