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Autistic Lens

10 Tips for Hosting Sensory-Friendly Holiday Gatherings

December 6th, 2022

Aly Laube

For Allies and Autistic Adults

Expecting autistic guests at your holiday gathering this year? The season can be overwhelming due to bright lights, rich scents, and special food. Changes to regular schedules don’t make it any easier.

Here are some tips for hosting sensory-friendly gatherings, whether you’ve hosted autistic folks before or not.

  1. Invite a small group, and keep numbers as low as possible to avoid overcrowding and excessive cross-talk at your gathering.
  2. Keep the lights low. Bright lights can cause headaches and annoyance. Avoid them if you can!
  3. Turn down volume on music so it’s not competing with other voices, or skip background music altogether. This can help your guests avoid overstimulation.
  4. Don’t be offended if they don’t eat everything they’re given. Part of having sensory issues is struggling with eating and drinking, and it’s probably not personal.
  5. Frequently ask your guests if they need more food or water. In overwhelming environments, autistic folks sometimes lose awareness of how their body is feeling, so reminders can be helpful.
  6. Put out a container of stim toys with a sign on it explaining that anyone can pick them up and use them.
  7. Set up a “sensory break room” with dim lights, a blanket, and headphones where people can go to de-stress when they’re overstimulated.
  8. Communicate the details of your gathering to your guests ahead of time. Share the proposed menu and schedule for the evening, and share any plans for how you’re making it sensory-friendly. This can help autistic people prepare for disruptions to their regular routines and diets.
  9. Allow guests to take movement breaks. They might go on a walk or just pop into another room to stretch. Enable them to move however feels best to them.
  10. Be understanding if guests need to leave early. Sometimes, no matter how accommodating you’ve been, it’s just not a comfortable day for socializing.

What are your tips for hosting sensory-friendly gatherings? 

 

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