Christmas is a time of joy, laughter, and celebration, but for individuals with additional needs and sensory processing difficulties, navigating the sensory overload and changes in routine can be challenging. With a bit of planning and a sprinkle of creativity, a sensory-friendly Christmas can be achieved. In this guide, we've compiled tips to make the festive season enjoyable for everyone.
1. Subdued Lighting
Many with sensory sensitivities find bright and flashy lights overwhelming, so opting for gentle, subdued lighting can significantly enhance the overall festive experience. Select soft, warm-coloured lights such as warm white or soft yellow. These tones are less intense and create a cosy and calming ambiance. Consider using string lights, fairy lights, or LED candles with warm hues. Incorporate soft glowing decorations like lanterns or lighted ornaments. These subtle additions add a touch of magic without overwhelming the senses.
2. Quiet Christmas Music
Choose calming and instrumental Christmas tunes to create a soothing atmosphere. Instrumental tracks, devoid of lyrics, provide the joyous melodies of the season without the potential sensory overload caused by words and vocal variations. Prepare a playlist of your chosen calming Christmas tunes in advance. This allows you to curate the selection and avoid unexpected surprises or sudden shifts in musical intensity during your festive celebrations. Pay attention to the volume of the music. Keep it at a level that complements the atmosphere without being too overpowering.
3. Gradual Decorating
Introduce decorations gradually to allow individuals to acclimate to the changes in their environment and involve them in the process at their own pace. This can prevent sensory overload and ensure a smooth transition into the festive season.
Opt for decorations with varying textures and avoid items that may cause sensory discomfort. Soft, touch-friendly fabrics such as velvet ribbons, plush stockings, or fabric tree skirts can add a cosy touch without triggering sensory discomfort. Consider decorations made of wood, felt, or fabric, as they provide tactile experiences that are gentle and pleasing to the touch. Opt for decorations with matte finishes rather than shiny or glossy surfaces. Matte textures are less likely to reflect intense light, providing a visually calm and comforting environment.
5. Create a Cosy Corner
Designate a quiet space with soft blankets and cushions where individuals can retreat if they need a break offering a comforting haven where you can relax and recharge during Christmas gatherings. Select a quiet and less-trafficked area of your home for the area such as a corner in the living room, a spare room, or even a secluded space near a window where you can find solace. Add personal touches to the cosy corner, such as a favourite blanket, a cushion with a familiar scent, or a small item of personal significance. These elements can make the space more inviting and tailored to individual preferences.
6. Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Have noise-cancelling headphones available for those who may need to block out auditory stimuli. Christmas often comes with joyful but sometimes overwhelming sounds of celebration so noise-cancelling headphones can be a valuable tool to create a peaceful sanctuary amidst the festive chaos.
7. Visual Schedules
Utilise visual schedules to outline the day's events, reducing uncertainty and providing a sense of structure. Integrating visual schedules into your Christmas celebrations is a thoughtful way to promote comfort and understanding for individuals with sensory sensitivities by providing a clear roadmap of the day's events, you contribute to a more inclusive and joyous experience for everyone involved.
8. Sensory-Friendly Crafts
Plan crafting activities that involve textures and materials suitable for various sensory preferences. Include items like soft felt, smooth paper, textured fabrics, and even materials with a slight crunch. Introduce scented elements into the crafting activities such as scented markers, glue, or scented playdough. Ensure that the scents are mild and non-overpowering, offering a pleasant olfactory experience for everyone involved. If individuals get overwhelmed with olfactory senses then offer alternatives for traditional glue such as glue dots, glue sticks, or even double-sided tape.
9. Aromatherapy with Caution
If using scents, opt for mild, familiar aromas like vanilla or cinnamon. Essential oils derived from natural sources often have milder and more authentic scents. If using essential oils, dilute them to reduce the intensity of the scent. This not only makes the aroma more subtle but also minimises the risk of triggering sensory discomfort for those who may be sensitive to strong smells. Be mindful of any sensitivities to strong scents.
10. Mindful Gift Wrapping
Consider alternative gift wrapping options that are gentle on the senses, such as fabric or soft paper. For noise-sensitive individuals steer clear of wrapping materials that produce loud or crinkling noises when handled. Encourage sustainability by using reusable wrapping options such as cloth wraps, scarves, or even decorative containers.
12. Comfortable Clothing
Encourage guests to wear comfortable clothing of their choice, considering sensory sensitivities to certain fabrics. Do not state that everyone must wear a Christmas Jumper, often the classic Christmas jumper can be a sensory nightmare due to the fabric and embellishments. Encourage the use of soft and breathable fabrics that are gentle on the skin. Fabrics like cotton, jersey, or blends with a smooth texture provide comfort and reduce the likelihood of sensory discomfort.
13. Prepare for Temperature Sensitivity
Adjust heating or cooling to accommodate temperature preferences, and have blankets available.
14. Structured Meal Times
Maintain regular meal times including regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner times. This stability provides a sense of predictability and comfort, especially for individuals who thrive on routine. Consider the preferences of those with specific dietary needs.
15. Include Sensory Breaks
Schedule breaks during gatherings to allow individuals to recharge in a quiet, calm environment. These breaks can be especially beneficial for those who may experience sensory overload in bustling environments. Consider incorporating sensory-friendly items during the sensory break such as fidget toys, stress balls or calming sensory toys. These items can offer additional support for individuals seeking tactile stimulation or a sensory outlet.
Hopefully by incorporating some of these practical tips, you can create an inclusive and joyful Christmas for individuals with autism. Embracing the uniqueness of each person's celebration style and making thoughtful adjustments will ensure that the festive season is truly a time of love, joy, and togetherness for everyone.