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9 tips for making your holiday party neurodiversity-friendly from Beaming Health

Article excerpt from Beaming Health

If you’re attending or hosting a neurodiverse gathering this holiday season, here are 9 tips for making your event accessible and enjoyable for all.

1. Designate at least one quiet space

If you’re hosting, reserve at least one room for no talking and no noise. This can serve as a decompression and regulation space for everyone, but especially autistic guests. Add a sign outside with clear rules and expectations. Folks will likely appreciate having somewhere to escape to when the festivities become a bit too much.

You can include calming and relaxing items in the quiet space.This could be puzzles, a weighted blanket, and fidget toys. Have a movie playing if there’s a tv.

If you’re neurodivergent or a parent, ask your host where you can retreat to when things become overwhelming. You might bring noise-canceling headphones, a game or book.

2. Communicate your expectations and plans

All guests will appreciate being included in planning your event. Check with guests regarding things like menu or restaurant selection, duration, what activities to do, and expectations. Get their input and adjust plans as necessary to accommodate needs.

Give guests a clear plan of what to expect from the event so they know how to best prepare. This is especially important for autistic children and adults. Knowing what the plan is for the day (e.g., what we’ll be eating, when we’ll be eating, what we’ll be doing and for how long) can reduce unnecessary stress for neurodivergent guests.

If you’re the parent of an autistic or neurodivergent child, communicate your child’s triggers and needs with your host, so they can prepare accommodations if necessary.

If you’re an autistic adult, let your host know what will make you feel most comfortable. You might ask that the music volume stay low or ask for the schedule beforehand. If you are asked to bring something, ask for specific instructions.

If you’re a host, check in with neurodivergent guests to ask “How can I help you feel more comfortable?” If you asked guests to bring something, make your request very clear. For example, instead of saying “Just bring chips,” you can say, “Bring 3 bags of Lays, 2 bags of Doritos, and 1 bag of pretzels.” Knowing exactly what is needed and how much of it to bring prevents your guests from developing anxiety about getting it wrong.

3. Have “safe” foods available

Many neurodivergent people have food sensitivities, food allergies, or are selective or picky eaters.

Be sure to have at least one safe option for each of your neurodivergent loved ones. Be sure to discuss the menu beforehand to ensure everyone’s nutritional needs are met.

If you’re hosting, ask each guest to bring a delicious dish, that way everyone has at least one thing they like. If you’re having your gathering at a restaurant, make sure there’s something on the menu that everyone will enjoy and confirm that the restaurant allows substitutions/modifications to menu items.

If you’re neurodivergent, it’s totally okay to bring your own safe food options with you or eat beforehand. Take-away containers may also be helpful if you feel uncomfortable eating with everyone else.

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