Holiday Tips From An Autism Parent
December, 2016


Benjamin Duff

Benjamin Duff

Web Development Manager, AAoM

Ben is currently the Web Development Manager for Autism Alliance of Michigan and has been with AAoM since 2012. Outside of his work with AAoM, Ben and his wife, Tiffany founded Corner Pieces, a charity dedicated to aiding children with developmental disabilities in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When not trying to keep up with Brian, Ben can be found working at a variety of hobbies, like podcasting, comic and movie reviews and design.

The Duff’s reside in Sault Sainte Marie, MI.

While sometimes the mixture of autism and the holidays can produce stale fruit bread (instead of spiced eggnog), it doesn’t make the holiday season any less special. Christmas, for our family, is honestly one of the best times for the year, but it doesn’t come easy. It requires planning, a positive attitude and the willingness to be flexible.

Below are some tips and activities we’ve used over the years to help get our son, Brian, geared up for the big day.

Holiday Movies

A few weeks before Christmas, we start watching Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown and more. This is an easy way to get our child ready for the holidays. Plan out a viewing schedule in advance. For example, watch one or two different movies each week.

Arts & Crafts

One of our favorites is coloring wooden ornaments with scented markers. Not only is this great for working on fine motor skills (something our son, Brian, struggles with), but using scented markers makes this a great sensory activity too.

Advent Calendar

These are great for every kid, but for kids on the spectrum they’re just amazing. I recommend setting a schedule and routine for opening each date. For us, we work this activity into his nighttime schedule, but work it in wherever it fits into your schedule. Consistency is most important.

Role playing

Brian is very picky when it comes to textures. So one of the activities my wife came up was letting him play with wrapping paper, so he could to get accustomed to it. From here, you can begin to actually wrap and unwrap a gift. We also role play opening stockings and giving gifts to others.

Working It Into Therapy

Incorporating holiday traditions into your child’s ABA or speech therapy has a ton of benefits. Not only will it add structure to the events of the day, but it also brings a new level of comfort for your child. This could be as manageable as utlizing matching cards or a game. Maybe it’s an activity around decorating a tree or lighting the Menorah. Even the simplest activity can have benefit.

Celebrating The Big Day

If you’re opening presents or spending the day with family, it’s key to clue in them into your child’s scheduled routine for the day. Obviously, it won’t be like your controlled home environment, so don’t let the little things get you down. It’s going to be louder, maybe messier, but if you stick to your plan, you’re going to be ok. We found benefit from Brian watching his cousins at events. Like all children, he seems to behave better when others are around.

If you’re spending Christmas at home, you’ll avoid certain hiccups, but other problems might arise, like familiarity and why we are doing this today. For us, one of our biggest struggles around Christmas is making it stand out and making it resonate with Brian that it’s special. This is why all the other tips are so important. Hopefully, the videos, the calendar, the crafts and the therapy drills have sunk in by the big day.

Remember Why You’re Doing It

This isn’t just an “autism parent” problem. It can be anyone’s problem. The holidays are about our loved ones and setting aside time to reflect on the good things in life. If you take a moment, step back, breathe, you usually find it’s not as bad as it seems. Find the good.

So if your child burns down the tree, throws the ham on the floor or pees on their new Christmas sweater, don’t fret, just smile.

Have A Happy Holiday!

If you need any additional support this holiday season or are looking for some great holiday activities in your area, contact AAOM’s MiNavigator at 877-463-AAOM or

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