Community Education

Holiday and Family Gathering Resources

Parties and Family Gatherings

  • Be considerate of your child's needs and ensure there is a safe and quiet place your child can go to if the event becomes overwhelming.
  • Practice sitting at the table with the plates, lighting, and music beforehand.
  • Go over the event and the people who will be attending.
  • Remember to remind your child about expected behavior. For example, "After you say hello to everyone, then you can go upstairs and watch TV or play your game."
  • If you are going to someone else’s house, let your child bring a favorite item/game/activity to do if the event becomes boring or overwhelming.
  • Ask your occupational therapist for recommendations for preparing your child to handle the noise of a family gathering.


Christmas tree

Winter Holidays

Santa and Presents

  • If your child does not want to sit on Santa’s lap, encourage them to try it. If they do, reward them with something they like. However, do not force them to try it.
  • Create a plan for opening presents and role-play what to say if your child does not like a present someone gives them or if they already have the item.
  • If this is your child’s first year to open presents or if they have fine motor issues, wrap their current toys and let them practice opening gifts the week before.
  • Count down till the day when the gifts will be opened: “Ten days until we open gifts!” If this is still too hard for your child, consider hiding gifts until the right time.
  • If your child struggles when things do not go as planned or if Santa does not bring the present they want, open presents early or with just immediate family to allow your child plenty of time to calm down.


  • Avoid using glass ornaments on the tree; opt for plastic shatterproof decorations instead.
  • Engage your child as much as possible in the decorating process.
  • If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate the house gradually. You may also need to create rules about which decorations can be touched and which cannot. Be direct, specific, and consistent.

Holiday Travel

  • Arrange to have your child’s favorite foods, books, or toys available during the trip. Having familiar items nearby may be calming in stressful situations.
  • If your child is flying for the first time, it may be helpful to bring them to the airport before the trip to help them become accustomed to airports and airplanes. Additionally, prepare your child for unexpected flight delays.

Other Holiday Considerations

  • Know your child and avoid long and difficult trips to areas with light and sound displays. The traffic, large crowds, and loud music may be stressful and unpleasant for your child.
  • If you will be visiting a friend’s or relative’s home, prepare your child in advance with information about pets, other children who may be there, food that will be served, etc. If your child has a history of wandering, you should also find out what kind of (if any) home security system your host has.
  • Prepare a photo album of relatives and other guests whom your child will be seeing during the holidays. Go through the photo album with them while talking briefly about each person. Make the album available for the child to look at whenever they want to.
  • Join Easterseals Midwest for our annual Milk and Cookies with Santa event. Come celebrate the holidays with us at this festive sensory-friendly gathering!


Three pumpkins


  • Invite your neighbors to rehearse with you and your for Halloween. If this is not possible, watch online videos of trick-or-treating with your child.
  • Walk around the block a couple nights before Halloween so your child is familiar with the area. Let your child know the route in advance.
  • Encourage your child to try on their costume before Halloween.
  • Practice knocking on doors, saying trick or treat, answering a couple basic questions, and saying thank you. If your child is nonverbal, bring along cards with a special greeting written on them to give to each neighbor.
  • Before you go out, discuss how much candy your child can eat and when.

Trick or Treating

  • Use a visual map and cross off houses as you visit them.
  • Set a time limit.
  • Stay close to home so that the area is familiar and it is easy to return home quickly if necessary.
  • Let your child stop when they are ready to stop, even if they have just started.
  • Make sure an adult is available to take your child aside if they need a break or need to go home.
  • Avoid houses that have gory decorations, excessive lights or strobes, or anything else that might make your child uncomfortable.

Preparing Others

  • Ask neighbors to answer the door quietly, without any strobe lights or scary greetings.
  • If your child has dietary or sensory concerns with different candies, provide neighbors the night before with a snack your child likes or can eat.

Consider Alternatives

  • Organize your own Halloween party that is autism-friendly based on the needs of your child and the needs of other party guests.
  • Look for local daytime alternatives at churches, schools, or other community centers.
  • Celebrate with a themed party and Halloween activities.


  • Make sure your child has identifying information on them (tag, card, bracelet, etc.) in case you get separated.
  • Put something on your child, such as a glow stick necklace, to help you spot them in a crowd when it is dark.
  • Check all candy before your child eats it.
  • Have your children put on warm clothing under their costumes in case it gets cold at night.
  • Bring along a flashlight just in case.

Remember, it's okay to stay at home!

  • Create your own Halloween tradition that fits your family’s needs. This could include a special movie night, creating Halloween-inspired foods together, or anything that is fun for the whole family.
  • Remember, the the goal is to have fun!

To learn more about our programs at Easterseals Midwest,
please contact us at 1-800-200-2119 or

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