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.
Invite a small group, and keep numbers as low as possible to avoid overcrowding and excessive cross-talk at your gathering.
Keep the lights low. Bright lights can cause headaches and annoyance. Avoid them if you can!
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.
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.
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.
Put out a container of stim toys with a sign on it explaining that anyone can pick them up and use them.
Set up a “sensory break room” with dim lights, a blanket, and headphones where people can go to de-stress when they’re overstimulated.
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.
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.
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?
The changes to regular routines, foods, and social dynamics that come with the holiday season can be difficult for autistic people to deal with. No matter the age of your autistic guests, they're likely to appreciate you putting in the effort to host a sensory-friendly gathering this year. A little consideration, understanding, and support can go a long way. Follow the tips listed on our blog in our bio to start preparing now. From the AutismBC staff, happy holidays!
A lifetime of working in journalism and advocacy prepared me for becoming a content creator with AutismBC. As an autistic person with OCD, anxiety, depression, and myotonic dystrophy, I understand firsthand what it’s like to live and think differently than most, and I’m passionate about advocating for and communicating with others in the community.
I’m also a non-binary lesbian in a happy relationship. Outside of writing, I love to make music, watch horror movies, and hang out with my partner and cat.