Christmas is just around the corner and the celebrations have already begun!
For many people, Christmas is the most magical time of the year – full of lots of festive activities and traditions. However, it can also be an overwhelming and stressful time for many children and adults who are neurodivergent or have other additional needs. There are many traditional Christmas activities and celebrations that can be easily adapted to include people of various needs and abilities. For this week’s blog, we’ve researched the various ways that you can combine traditional Christmas celebrations with sensory elements to create a sensory-friendly, inclusive Christmas for all.
Preparations and Expectations
Regardless of what plans you have this Christmas, planning ahead is a really important way to make sure that those who find change difficult are better prepared and help avoid any stress or anxiety surrounding the festive period. Generally, there are lots of preparations that go into Christmas, which can be of benefit when it comes to planning your sensory-friendly christmas.
Although these preparations may be overwhelming for neurotypical individuals or those with additional needs, there are lots of ways these can be changed to not only prepare but experience new and exciting sensory challenges. Here are a few traditional preparations that be transformed into sensory-friendly experiences.
Advent Calendars are a great tradition to incorporate into preparing for Christmas, and there are now various types, outside of the general ‘chocolate behind each door’, available for all. For example:
Interactive – both virtual and physical advent calendars are now available that use interactive features such as music, sounds, photos, videos, textures and much more to encourage sensory stimulation.
Educational – advent calendars can also act as educational tools, teaching users all about Christmas and the meaning behind different typical Christmas festivities.
Developmental – core skills can also be developed through advent calendars such as social skills, motor skills and cognitive skills whilst still surrounding a Christmas theme. Not only does this help with development, but it can also build a familiarity around the Christmas period.
Another great way to prepare during the lead up to Christmas is through Social Stories. Social stories can be incorporated to generate a further understanding of aspects surrounding Christmas that are new or unfamiliar. There are lots of social stories templates available online, or you can create your own. Examples of Christmas story subjects include:
- Opening presents
- Giving / receiving gifts
- Putting up decorations
- Visiting family
- Christmas Dinner
Christmas Decorations are one of the main things associated with Christmas and an activity that most people do participate in. Most places you visit over the Christmas period are decorated with an assortment of trees, lights, garlands, and more. However as magical as decorations can be – for an individual who is sensory sensitive these can become incredibly overwhelming.
Although it may be slightly more difficult to manage in public places where this isn’t within your control, there are ways you can still incorporate decorations into your christmas celebrations in a sensory-friendly way at home. For example:
A dedicated decoration room – generally decorations are put up all around the house and even on the outside too. However, rather than this, you could have a dedicated decoration area or room in the house. This way there is both a space to explore or enjoy the decorations, and a space for if it becomes too overwhelming.
Minimal – instead of having a dedicated space, you could have a small amount of decorations.. Not all decorated spaces have to be the same and it’s okay to have as many or as little as you want. There are many creative alternatives to traditional decorations that can still be festive such as a felt Christmas tree or a fairy lights, which can also stimulate the senses. These can also be turned into Christmas-themed activities, which we will explore further on in the blog.
In stages, rather than all at once – if you do choose to put up decorations, you could try putting them up at stages rather than all at once. This way you can create a feeling of ease and reduce anxiety around changes by slowly introducing them.
The element of surprise surrounding presents can sometimes be a stressful part of Christmas. However, there are ways to help with this so that this can be an enjoyable experience for both gift givers and gift receivers.
Opening presents – when it comes to opening presents, some individuals can struggle with un-wrapping the paper if they don’t have a high development of motor skills such as peeling cellotape or untying bows. Alternatively, the type of wrapping paper can also be overwhelming such as certain patterns or colours. To make this more sensory-friendly, you could choose a particular type of paper that is more muted or see-through, use a gift bag instead or avoid wrapping paper all together.
Go for sensory-related gifts – there are lots of different sensory themed toys that are perfect for gifts, providing many sensory-rich benefits. Depending on the receivers sensory needs, these can vary, however here’s a few examples:
- Light Projectors
- Weighted Blankets
- Play Doh
- Tactile Resources such as Balls, Rollers and Fidgets.
- Knitting / Threading Equipment
Activities and Events
Now we’ve explored different sensory-friendly ways to prepare for Christmas, let’s discuss some Christmas themed activities and events that can stimulate and enrich all of the senses.
Christmas Sensory Bin
Christmas Sensory Bins are a super fun activity to do and can be created or adapted to suit specific needs. Sensory Bins are plastic tubs or containers that can be filled with a variety of materials, objects and toys. This activity allows users to explore, learn, socialise and play whilst engaging with sensory stimulation. Christmas themed Sensory Bins can be a great way to introduce users to various sounds, visuals, tastes, textures and aromas associated with Christmas.
Sensory Christmas Baubles
Another crafty related sensory activity to do is making Christmas Sensory Baubles. Similar to Sensory Bins, this activity holds lots of sensory benefits that can engage with all of the senses, and act as a fun way to increase familiarity with the festive period. This can also be incorporated into your decorating process, as the baubles that are made can be included in the decorations that you put up. Sensory Baubles can be made out of a variety of materials, colours, shapes and sizes and are also a great tradition to continue every year.
Christmas Light Trails
Christmas Light Trails are a fantastic, immersive sensory experience for all of the family to enjoy. Typically situated outdoors, you can follow a trail of various lights and illuminations that are Christmas themed. There are many light trails across the country that have allocated times for individuals with additional needs or abilities to enjoy the experiences in a quieter, less busy environment. Check out Jolly Festive to search for Christmas Light Trails near you.
Virtual / Sensory Santa’s Grottos
Meeting Santa, the magical figure who visits every year, is a special part of christmas celebrations that can now be enjoyed by all. Thanks to modern technology, there are many virtual santa’s grottos available to online users where you can experience a visit with santa from the comfort of your own home. This option is a great alternative to individuals with various additional needs who can still be included in the festivities, but at a pace that best suits them and within a comfortable and familiar environment. Another alternative is Sensory Santa’s Grottos, which are dedicated to sensory sensitive individuals who can visit the grotto in-person, at a quieter time, with fewer people and calmer elements such as lights and music.
Making your own Traditions and Celebrations
If you choose to celebrate Christmas, just remember – this can be done in your own way. These don’t have to be the same as everyone else, as long as it works for you and those around you.
Although there are lots of Christmas traditions and celebrations that have been around for many years, it’s never too late to make your own.
Merry Christmas from the team at Sensory Technology, and Happy New Year!