Fun Winter Activities for Children with Autism

By raluca.olariu@…, 12 December, 2022
kids playing indoors

During the winter, outdoor activities can be enjoyable for everyone, but they may be difficult for people with autism to handle because of the sensory overload caused by cold weather and holiday festivities.

Parents can help by organizing sensory-friendly activities for their kids that keep them occupied without exposing them to potentially harmful stimuli. These activities can help improve their social and physical development.

People with autism report experiencing a lot of anxiety during the winter holidays.

During the cold months, autistic children often experience stress due to family gatherings, parties, and more. Here are some things that autistic kids say they sometimes struggle with during the holidays:

As a child, the holidays were indeed stressful on me, mainly due to sensory overload and gatherings of people. My advice is that you should provide plenty of quiet space, downtime, a heavy blanket, or a toy for calming, and remember that we are not purposely ‘being bad' should there be a meltdown. Compassion, patience, and understanding that we are beautiful just the way we are can go a long way during the season.” — Melissa R.

Sometimes ignoring the day as some special day that we have to prepare for is better. Our family has gone through a lot of depression and anxiety because there are so many expectations associated with the holidays. If we can just be more flexible and not try to pack a bunch of hopes and dreams into a single day, it works much better. Our families never really wanted to be at our house (not surprising) so it made it more depressing. We try to make smaller plans with different groups of friends and keep it small.” — Christine H.

We always had a schedule of activities, and when people would be at our house, we talked about what was expected from them, how long the activity was. When it becomes overwhelming [kids] can retreat to their bedroom. We tried to be by the corner or edge at events/activities (sometimes with earplugs, books, tablets). Knowing what was coming and what was expected, and having a few helps really helped with anxiety levels.” — Lilla A.

If you want to learn more about sensory-friendly activities for autistic children, read this article.

The first thing you need to do when planning for the holiday season is to prepare yourself mentally by thinking through everything. Then, tell your children what will be going on and allow them to ask any questions if they don't fully understand something.

If you're having a party, think about providing some quiet time for children so they don't feel overwhelmed by the noise. You could also provide space for them to enjoy a movie while others prepare. Also, addressing sensory overload also means to consider limiting the number of guests and keeping decorating simple.

Autism-friendly winter activities

With the coming of colder weather, indoor activities can be quite dull for children with autism spectrum disorders. However, there are ways to ensure that they enjoy the cold season even when you spend a lot of time inside. Here are some tips on how to keep them active during the chilly months:

  • Have your children always be prepared for cold weather by wearing warm clothes, having multiple layers, and making sure their shoes are waterproof or insu­lated.
  • If your child has difficulty regulating his body temperatures, consider wearing a hat, a sweater, or a blanket in additional to his coat.
  • Make sure that your house is warm and cozy. Also, make sure that your heating system is running smoothly.
  • Consider playing indoor games like board games (like Monopoly), cards (like poker) or puzzle games (like Sudoku).
  • Don't schedule too many social events within one day. This may cause your child to feel stressed and anxious. Schedule them over several consecutive nights instead.
  • Set aside time for short breaks during the day. If your child spends too long sitting down, he may not be able to focus on his schoolwork. Short breaks every hour will encourage him to get up and move around.

Examples of sensory-inclusive winter activities

Here are some examples for sensory-friendly winter holidays that might be suitable for your family.

  • Play board games together.
  • Walk around the neighborhood.
  • Read books or watch animal documentaries.
  • Make a craft together.
  • Listen to music that helps calm your child down.
  • Decorate your house using natural materials such as pineconess, dried leaves, or sticks.

Some great examples of board games for children with autism include Candyland, Sushi Go!, or Ticket to Ride

Remember that not all kids with autism enjoy being cooped up indoors during the winter. Others kids might be unable to deal with the sudden changes in temperature and some may just prefer staying inside. You should always take into consideration your child's preferences and sensitivities when planing their daily activities.

How to handle an autistic meltdown

Sometimes, no matter what you do, they still happen. Meltdowns can occur unpredictably and often cause great stress. It's important to understand why they happen so you can prevent them from happening again.

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Here are some ways to handle an autistic meltdown:

  • To know why your kid has meltdowns, you need to identify the cause. Some kids have meltdowns because they're bored and some have meltdowns when they don't understand things or when they feel misunderstood by their parents.
  • Recognize these early warning signals so that you can intervene earlier if necessary. Changes in mood or behavior could be an indication that your child is having one of their meltdowns.
  • When your child has a tantrum, don't let him get away with it. Instead, distract him from his demands by playing with him or doing something else.
  • Don't yell at your kid when he has a temper tantrum; instead, calmly talk with him and help him calm down.
  • If your kids enjoy playing, then encourage them to use their creativity by using crayons, markers or colored pencils. They may also enjoy playing with toys that let them use their imagination, like puzzle games or building block sets.

Sensory products that can help with autistic meltdowns

Bare Home Weighted Blanket

Sensory Body Sock

Fidget Spinner

Tangle Jr. Sensory Toy    

There are many challenges associated with children with ASD in cold weather. However, we hope that this article provides some tips that will help you enjoy a happy holiday season for yourself and your child with autism.

Photo credit: Unsplash.