10 Sensory-Friendly Christmas Activities for Autistic Children

By sandra.caplesc…, 13 December, 2021
Mom with baby celebrating Christmas.

It’s the most special time of the year: Christmas! The holiday spirit is upon us, and winter is here. You decorate your house with bright and colorful lights; the Christmas tree looks lovely in your living room, the Christmas carols enchant your ear—your home is cozy and filled with cheer.

Or so you think. The holiday season is tough on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While other children play cheerfully and engage in age-appropriate activities (anxiously waiting for Santa to bring them presents like stuffed animals), your little one might not even understand the concept of Christmas yet. Plus, you  might need to use Christmas sensory calm music for autism that soothes the autistic child. 

Christmas can be a reminder that your child is different from others. Most children with autism spectrum disorder have sensory sensitivities, meaning that they can’t stand bright lights, being in large crowds, or certain textures. For most of them, Christmas means a change in schedule that can upset them and provoke sensory overload. You also put them in a stressful situation if you invite your family to dinner, especially if the child doesn’t have much contact with them.

But this does not mean you can’t enjoy this special event like any other family. This holiday season, Christmas autism-friendly activities need adjustments that fit your child's preferences. Here are some autism-friendly and fun activities you can do at home (or not) to make him feel included. It will be a Christmas like no one ever had, taking into account the new boundaries set by the pandemic. In this article, discover fun Christmas sensory activities for the whole family. 

Get started by reading Tips for an Autism-Friendly Holiday Season.

Sensory Christmas Tree

A real Christmas tree might provoke sensory overload because it’s brightly colored or has textures your child doesn’t enjoy. Instead of having a real or fake tree, you can make your own Christmas tree out of felt for a new tactile sensory experience. You can buy a DIY felt tree, and your child with autism can decorate it however he wants without feeling overwhelmed. The kit has 30 ornaments that you can place anywhere, and it’s the perfect activity for hand-eye coordination.

Winter Vocabulary Unit

Your child with autism might not understand what Christmas is or the words associated with this holiday. With a winter vocabulary unit for $6.50, you can effectively teach your child new thematic vocabulary. This packet contains winter, New Year's, and Valentine's vocabulary and has worksheets to be utilized by multiple types of learners.

Christmas Coloring Book

What's better than to sit at home, near the fireplace (if you have one), and color together with your little one? If your child loves coloring, then you can buy a festive coloring book with 32 designs of whimsical Christmas characters. The book also suggests what color palettes your child can use (it's OK if your child uses his imagination, of course) and has beginner-friendly instructions. Some coloring books even have perforated pages, so you can take the art and display it anywhere you want.

Go Somewhere

You don't have to stay at home for Christmas, and a change of scenery can be welcome in your family. Do something different this year and go to autism-friendly vacation destinations. It can be both refreshing and renewing. You can also drive around town and see the various decorations (if your child is OK with that), go to a restaurant that understands your family's needs or visit a nice museum. Or you can go somewhere in nature, despite the cold weather, since exercise is healthy for developing children.

You might also like Tips for Traveling with Autistic Children.

Make Holiday Ornaments

You don't have to buy decorations this Christmas; you can craft a tactile ornament with your child. If you involve your kid in the decorating process, he'll get used to the feeling and won't be 'afraid' of Christmas next year. You can keep his mind and hands busy with these creative crafts:

It all depends on what your child likes to do. Some of these activities might not be good for him if he dislikes certain textures or colors. You know your child best, so think carefully about what your child enjoys, then buy the appropriate tools.

Baking and Cooking

Most children with autism are picky eaters and have food aversions. Baking cookies or cooking alongside your child might desensitize him towards certain foods. It's a great bonding activity for the whole family, and you can create your visual recipe to help your child understand the instructions better. You can find helpful recipes here.

If you don’t like to bake, you can assemble and decorate a traditional gingerbread house.

Play Board Games

Board games are a great family activity to pass the time and interact with each other. There are plenty of kid-friendly games you can find, such as Don't Break the Ice, Monopoly, or Jenga. You can also play online board games if your child prefers it that way.

Make a Christmas Sensory Bin

There are TONS of great ideas for sensory bins online. Sensory bins provide children with the opportunity to explore through tactile play that engages their senses. Sensory bins encourage various types of development and are great activities for the home. The best part is, you can theme it however you want. Do you want a Christmas sensory bin with white tinsel? You can make one. Or a nutcracker sensory bin? Absolutely. Here are 50+ ideas for you to try this winter.

Holiday Slime and Playdough

Slime and playdough can be soothing for some children because they love to play with different textures. Slimes are great for developing fine motor skills by finding small objects within the dough. Fine motor skills are important. Your child works on hand strength by squishing, gripping, and pinching the slime. You can even use cookie cutters to form new shapes. You can also slime as a birthday gift. Find some enjoyable Christmas-themed slimes here.

Christmas Sensory Bottles

Sensory bottles help children with autism spectrum disorder manage their overwhelming emotions and deal about sensory overload. They are peaceful objects your child can focus on—and are easy to make! By shaking the bottle, the child gets the proprioceptive input he needs to calm down, and the various things inside the bottle keep him captivated. Luckily, you can make Christmas-themed sensory bottles. A Christmas tree sensory bottle or a Grinch calming jar will help your child understand the spirit of Christmas. Here are more ideas.

Outdoor Activities Ideas

If your family is more active, then you can try outdoor activities that stimulate your child and improve social skills. Be careful to take into consideration your child's willingness to participate in the outdoor activities before planning something. From going sledding to building a snowman, there are many things you can do outside.

Read Outdoor Activities for Autistic Child.  

A Different Kind of Christmas

Your family's Christmas doesn't have to be like all the rest. Your autistic child has unique strengths and views the world differently—and that's OK! You can still have fun with plenty of Christmas activities for autistic children. You make new memories and create new Christmas traditions that fit your family's needs. Christmas doesn't have to be stressful; it can be as simple as watching a movie or having a family game night. Find something that suits your family.

This year, be safe and have a Merry Christmas!