When it comes to Christmas, events are popping up everywhere. You won’t have to look hard to find twinkly lights, loud and cheery music, and people dressed up as Santa or elves.
Many children will love this and fully embrace the magic, but what if yours doesn’t?
What if lights, noise and large crowds are quite terrifying for your child?
For children (and adults) with autism, Christmas can be stressful and overwhelming.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a collection of ideas to help anyone touched by autism to enjoy the festive period. We’ve also researched places to go and days out in Warwickshire that are suitable for children with autism. These places offer alternative entertainment for people who don’t fancy the traditional Christmas experiences.
Surviving Christmas with an autistic child
Prepare for Christmas
Preparation is key. Change can be difficult for autistic people to handle, so try to give as much warning as possible. Talk about what they might look forward to but also what they might find stressful so that they can start to become aware.
Write it down. Make lists and ready stories about what to expect over the festive time. Include sensorial issues that may be overwhelming such as noise and lights so that they can refer back to them for comfort.
Break it down to manageable chunks. Perhaps see visitors across a number of days rather than all in one go, and don’t plan to stay too long in new environments if your child is uncomfortable.
Always ask for advance warning. Insist that visitors tell you if they are coming rather than arrive unannounced.
Manage the changes
Stick to your schedules. Keep your routines the same as a normal day, including their food. If you do introduce seasonal activities, ensure that they still have a quiet place to go if they are feeling overwhelmed.
Introduce appropriate decorations. If decorations are too much for your child, scrap them. Likewise, if they can handle a level, introduce them gradually. Keep the child’s room Christmas-free so that they feel safe.
Use ear defenders. If noise at parties or in crowds is too much for your child, let them use ear defenders to manage the levels. In addition, allow them to move away to a quieter area if they need to.
Watch from a distance (or above). Christmas lights switch-ons can be busy, so why not watch from a building that has a balcony or window, or simply take a double-decker bus so that they are kept at a comfortable distance?
Above all, make Christmas right for your family. Ignore all of the ideals that can stress your child out. For example, eat what you like on Christmas Day or only give one present.
Family days out that won’t stress an autistic child out
We asked our community to recommend places to take children with autism in Warwickshire at Christmas time.
This is the list of venues and activities that were suggested:
Autism-friendly cinema showings. Most major cinemas offer relaxed or sensory friendly screenings. Adjustments are made to reduce stress and sensory input through lighting and sound, and there is more freedom to move, which can therefore make them more comfortable for a child with additional needs.
Find autism-friendly cinema showings >
Autism-friendly/relaxed performances at the theatre. Similar to the cinema showings, these shows have had adjustments made to accommodate greater needs. Check theatres locally.
See relaxed performances at Birmingham Hippodrome >
Country parks with trails. Warwickshire has some amazing parks accessible to everyone. With playgrounds, open spaces, cafes, toilets, picnic areas and cycle routes, you can therefore tailor your day to everyone’s needs. These often have seasonal trails running too to be taken at your own pace. Check out Coombe Abbey Park, Ryton Pools Country Park, Bradgate Park Trust or Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for ideas.
Garden centres. Not only are these often suitable for everyone from your baby to your Nan, some offer much more. Christmas is a wonderland of decorations, with grottos, gift shops, pet centres, soft plays, and cafes. You’ll need to check with specific centres as to how these will suit your child however. Visit Dobbies to find your nearest store, Smith’s Garden Centre, or Sapcote to see what’s on offer.
Places to visit
The Dice Box, Leamington Spa. This is a place for people who love games and working things out. There is a games library as well as a cafe, so they cater for all sorts of interests and needs, and make everyone feel welcome.
ILEAP, Stratford-upon-Avon. ILEAP works with people aged from 4 years and over and delivers a children’s programme, a youth programme and an adult programme of inclusive leisure activities. Members generally have a mild / moderate learning disability although anyone with additional needs is welcome.
Relaxed sessions at Jump In, Warwick. Relaxed Sessions trampoline activities for additional needs are perfect for people of all ages and their families to enjoy. These sessions include soft lighting and soothing music for a relaxed, safe and friendly sensory space to play. They also offer special rates, and carers jump for free.
Escape Arts, Stratford-upon-Avon. Escape helps people of all age groups to work together on art and heritage projects, building strong, happy communities and supporting wellbeing.
Eathorpe lights, Eathorpe. The whole village of Eathorpe (just outside Leamington Spa) takes part in decorating their houses with Christmas lights to create a magical atmosphere. The idea is run by the village to raise funds for local children’s charities and stays up all through December. This therefore provides an opportunity for children to see the lights in the safety of their own car without getting ristmasChrifu compmfout if they find it too much.
Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa. These gardens in Leamington Spa aren’t swamped with Christmas decorations, but have a small sensory garden and some pretty lights, waterfalls and lake. We are told that you can drive up the parade when the lights are on, which is beautiful and can therefore be taken slowly.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, Compton Verney. The art gallery and park offers low-key Christmas events that were recommended by a parent of a ASD, ADHD, SPD and PDA child.
For more tips, visit the National Austistic Society where you can find lots of downloads and tips for parents and carers.