Whether it is for your child, your cousin, your brother, or a family friend who has autism here are five tips for hosting a sensory-friendly holiday party.
1. Share your plans with your guests
Make sure to let your guests know in advance what will be happening at the party. Beyond just the start and end time for your holiday event, let them know what the schedule will look like. Will there be any games? What kind of games? What time will food be served? What food is going to be served?
Individuals on the autism spectrum prefer routine and predictability. They often want to know what they will be doing, when, and for how long. Surprises and disruptions to their regular routine can be very stressful for them.
By sharing your plans for your party in advance you will not only help your neurodivergent guests prepare for the event, including your family and friends’ children with autism, but it is also a great opportunity for you to ask for feedback.
One of the easiest, but most effective ways to host a sensory-friendly holiday party is to talk to the neurodivergent friends and family members (or their parents) in your life who will be attending the party. Ask them about their specific needs and ways to accommodate them at the party.
2. Designate a quiet space
Choose one room in your home to be the quiet room. This will be a place where anyone, but especially guests with autism or other sensory needs, can go to decompress and regulate themselves.
You’ll want to make this a space where there is no excess noise and no talking. Consider including calming and relaxing items in this room, like puzzles, books, fidget toys, and weighted blankets.
Make sure everyone attending your holiday party knows where this room is located and the rules for using the space.
3. Don’t enforce a strict dress code
Many people enjoy themed parties or dressing up for the holidays, but for anyone with sensory sensitivities, certain fabrics or textures can be very dysregulating. Consider keeping your party’s dress code flexible, prioritizing comfort over style.
4. Keep things simple
Lights, glitter, candles, and so much more, it can be easy to go overboard when it comes to holiday decorations and decor. However, individuals with autism often have sensitivities to light, sound, textures, smells, etc. Too much sensory input at once can be very overwhelming and dysregulating.
When preparing for your holiday party, try to keep things simple. Limit the amount of decorations you use and try to eliminate any unnecessary sounds and smells, like loud background music or scented candles.
5. Keep things flexible
Keep your arrival and departure times flexible for your party. If someone has a child with autism, they may want to arrive early, before all the other guests arrive to give their child a chance to acclimate to the new people and growing crowd. Or one of your neurodivergent guests may become overstimulated and may need to leave early.
There are many reasons why a guest with special needs may need to arrive early (or late) or leave before the party is over. By keeping your holiday get-together flexible, you eliminate any pressure they may feel.
Click here for more information about making your holidays more accessible.