Preparing for Christmas

Whilst most families are excitedly anticipating Christmas, when you have a child with a learning disability or autism, preparing for Christmas can take more consideration and planning.

What many view as enjoyable markers of the season – such bright lights, crowds, noise, visitors, celebrations and disruption to routine – when viewed from the eyes of an individual with a learning disability or autism, these can prove a confusing sensory overload.

It can also be difficult to balance the needs of the whole family – trying to ensure other children don’t miss out on a ‘normal’ Christmas and your feelings of guilt trying to keep everyone happy.


If your child is in school, they may be confused and upset by the change in routine that most children relish as the holidays approach – nativity plays and changes in schedule, can cause anxiety in a child who is comforted by the normal routines of the school day. Speak to your school about your own child’s needs and see how they can help support your child with these events – they may need more preparation for a change in schedule than others.


Hanging decorations in your home creates a significant change to a familiar environment. It may be beneficial to encourage your child to choose the decorations – helping them to feel more in control whilst not missing out on the experience. If they cannot, encourage your other children to decorate their own bedrooms so they do not miss out while allowing the rest of the house to remain unchanged.


Try to make time for your other children to enjoy Christmas activities, even if just for an hour or so. Ask for help from friends and family for support, so your children can attend Christmas activities with them or to look after your child so you can watch their sibling in the Christmas play.


Many people mark the holiday by visiting family and friends but this can be very overwhelming for those with social anxieties. It can be difficult to explain to others why visits may be unwelcome, but providing guests the information needed to make the visit run more smoothly or the reason why you can’t make it this time, will help to keep communication open. It will also maintain your social support network. Many people worry about how best to react to a child with autism or learning disability – help to prepare relatives and friends for the behaviours they may witness, your child’s specific needs and how they can support you in managing these. This will boost everyone’s confidence and reduce the likelihood of problems.


If you are hosting on the day, try to keep things as simple as possible. It can be easy to become overstretched and stressed, however your child can pick up on your feelings and react to these. People love to feel valued and helpful so ask for help, maybe by asking everyone to bring a dish or chip in with clearing.

If you are visiting someone else with your child for the day, make sure you have a calm space for your child to go to if they are finding the festivities overwhelming.


Remember to enjoy it, celebrate in your own way, each family has their own Christmas traditions – being together as a family and enjoying that time together is more important than meeting others’ expectations and traditions.

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