‘Tis the season for celebrations, get-togethers, and activities filled with loud noises, music, and bustling crowds. It sounds like fun for some, but if you have a child with autism, this time of year can be challenging to navigate.
But there are plenty of ways you can make this New Year’s celebration with your child with autism a sensory-friendly one. Because children on the autism spectrum tend to be highly sensitive to all of the things that make typical parties and celebrations exciting to most people, you’ll have to prepare your child for the big day.
While you’ll have to sacrifice some of the big crowds and loud events, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some autism-friendly fun with your children and family to usher in the new year.
Planning Your New Year’s Eve Celebration with Kids with Autism
First things first: you have to put things in your child’s perspective. You know your child with autism best which means you understand (or are learning) what triggers them most. If it’s loud sounds, fireworks are out. If it’s crowds, a quiet sensory-friendly night at home may be in order. If it’s changes in routine, perhaps you have a normal night in and celebrate quietly with your partner or on video chat with some of your family.
Understanding your child’s individual needs is critical to making your new year’s eve celebration the most autism-friendly it can be. It’s important to let go of some of your expectations about what a new year’s celebration with kids is “supposed” to look like.
Try to rearrange your thought patterns and put your child’s needs first. When you do, ringing in the new year can be fun and enjoyable!
Ideas for a Sensory-Friendly New Year’s Celebration
Typically, the best way to celebrate with your child with autism is with a small group of people your child is familiar with, to reduce anxiety. But if this isn’t what’s best for you, that’s okay too. Just make sure you prepare your child for who might be at the party before you go.
*You can check out our Thanksgiving blog post to get some ideas for preparing your son or daughter for family gatherings.
Whether you plan on going to a family or friend’s house, or if you’re staying home, incorporating some autism-friendly activities to celebrate the new year is a great way to include your child in the festivities.
As we stated earlier, you know your child best, so put this into consideration when choosing which autism-friendly activities to try.
1. Countdown to midnight – or not.
This traditional New Year’s Eve celebration is what it’s all about – the countdown. But depending on how late your kiddos can stay up without becoming super cranky or where you live in the country, staying up until actual midnight may not be a great idea.
If you live on the west coast of the U.S., sure, you and your children with autism may be able to ring in the new year at 9:00 pm with the folks in Times Square. But if that’s too late or if you live closer to the east coast, consider celebrating earlier in the evening, perhaps around when your kids regularly go to bed.
Or if you think you can coordinate all the clocks without your kids catching on, you could even set them forward to mimic 12:00 midnight. Whatever works best for your child with autism to prevent them from having a sensory overload is the best choice for you this year.
2. Keep a New Year’s themed sensory box handy.
Along with New Year’s comes confetti, glitter, streamers, and more. While you might want to nix the party horns and loud poppers, you could put together a box with some fun New Year’s themed items for when they may be getting overstimulated at a party. The box could include all the New Year’s items like streamers, confetti, glow sticks, and balloons.
You could also include a sensory-friendly calming jar or bottle filled with water, lots of glitter, and some food coloring. Watching the glitter swirl around and float to the bottom before turning it back over is an excellent way to help your child stay calm.
3. Try a different take on fireworks.
Fireworks are pretty much off-limits for families of children with autism. The loud unexpected sounds, flashing colors, and general unpredictability is a sensory-overload recipe for meltdowns.
Perhaps consider a more autism-friendly activity like watching beautiful fireworks displays on TV or online. Or you even try out some sparklers, if you think your child with autism can use them safely.
Unfortunately, sometimes the loud sounds of fireworks are nearly impossible to escape entirely. If that’s the case, do your best to prepare your child for what they might hear and offer ear protection if they’re okay wearing it.
4. Commemorate the New Year gently.
Just because you might not be able to party with a large group of friends and family doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the big countdown. Rather than screaming the countdown backward from ten and blowing loud noisemakers, why not try an autism-friendly activity a little less loud and boisterous.
Consider handing out balloons to family and friends and count backward in a normal volume. When you get to the end, throw the balloons, streamers, and confetti up in the air and say “Happy New Year!” This is a great way to commemorate the new year in a sensory-friendly way.
Of course, just like anything else, it’s a good idea to prepare your child for this event, so they know what to expect.
5. Include their favorite foods in the celebration.
Food. It’s a big part of any celebration. To make the New Year’s festivities more inclusive, make sure you include some of your child with autism’s favorite snacks or entree options. This will make snack time and meal time much more enjoyable for everyone.
6. Opt for a special, sensory-friendly family night in.
If you think the whole New Year’s thing is just way too much for your child, even if you make it as sensory-friendly as possible, maybe you just need to celebrate differently with a more autism-friendly activity.
Consider a family night snuggled up under a soothing weighted blanket watching a movie with popcorn and some of your child’s favorite snacks. Nobody ever said you absolutely had to countdown to midnight to celebrate the new year. Marking the occasion in your own way can be just as unique and memorable.
Need More Support as a Parent of a Child With Autism?
If your child has received an autism diagnosis, you’re in a season of life where catering to their needs to ensure their comfort and life fulfillment is an everyday activity.
And we understand. It can get overwhelming.
But understanding your child with autism and their needs is one of the most important jobs you’ll do as a parent.
If you need guidance in helping your child with autism to learn, grow, and achieve their full potential, we’re here for you! Contact our autism specialists here at The Autism Therapy Group in Lombard, IL, and we’ll be happy to meet with you and your child. If you aren’t in Lombard, The Autism Therapy Group also has locations in other parts of the U.S.
Contact us today. We’re ready to help you and your child have a happy, healthy, and enjoyable new year together!