Surviving the Winter Holidays


The holiday season can be stressful for everyone, BUT throw in autism and it can be over the top stressful!  Here are tips, ideas and strategies for making this season a little more joyful!

Included below are submissions from parents like you who have been there/done that and want to share their advice on surviving this time of year.

We'd love to hear from you about your experiences and advice!





Taking the Stress Out of the Holidays

  • Host the holiday gathering at your house so your child is more comfortable.
  • Educate your family/friends ahead of time regarding your child’s difficulties (lack of interest in gifts, special diet, etc)
  • If traveling pack up your child’s favorite comforting things and take them with you.
  • Try using a social story to help your child understand the holiday chaos! Here’s a website for help:
  • Educate your family ahead of time regarding your child’s diet restrictions. Send them information regarding the diet and let them know what your child can and can not eat!
  • Send your family a copy of a good biomed book before the holidays to help them understand what you are going through.
  • Sit this one out with peace and tranquility -



Keeping Up With GFCFSF and Dealing with Infractions

  • We spent the holidays with our large family. We asked the one household who also is challenged with food allergies to be the host house. If you can’t find something as great as this, educate someone to help you in a large gathering. If there will be 50 people together, find the one aunt that will believe in what you’re doing and take it upon herself to advocate on your child’s behalf when it’s time for dinner and snacks.
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND
  • Our doctor offered to call anyone to explain or answer questions about diet with relatives we’d be spending the holidays with.
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND




Gift Ideas
Are you having trouble coming up with gift ideas for your child? Here are some websites that may help spark an idea for you:

I often hear from parents "I have no idea what to get my child, the only thing he/she likes is food!"   Suggestion: Purchase his or her FAVORITE snacks and wrap them up!

  • Purchase a gift card to the grocery store. You can take your child to the store after the holidays and help them pick out some of their favorite foods to purchase. They may not understand the meaning of the gift card when opening it, but it can make a fun and learning trip to the grocery store afterwards.


Sensory Gift Ideas

For kids who enjoy movement:

  • IKEA is a great place to find sensory toys for our kids!
    • (Look in the children’s section under "small furniture)
    • Hanging Seat ($69.99)
    • Play Tunnel ($14.99)
    • Small Circus Tent ($19.99)
    • Swivel Chair ($79.99)
  • Large tupperware container filled with beans, rice, packing peanuts or something similar. Word of warning, a container of rice is the hardest to clean up!!
  • Flashlights, LiteBrite
  • Scented markers, pencils and erasers (you can get scented pencils and erasers at
  • Bean bags, trampolines, musical instruments.
  • If you are wanting to order toys online, check on (you can also buy GFCFSF foods there too!)
  • Gluten Free Playdough

Music Toys

Many children with autism love music. If you have a piano or keyboard consider getting your child an easy to follow piano book.

E-Z Play Today, Kid’s Songfest is an easy beginner book that has stickers to put on the key board that matches the notes in the book. Many special needs music therapists use this for children with autism. It can be purchased at or on



iPads are expensive but can make a great gift for children with autism. Ways to afford one for your child:

  • Make it a gift from the entire family. Have grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc give money to your child as their holiday gift. The money can go towards the purchase of the iPad. Let your family know about the many benefits an iPad provides children w/autism. (they may increase the amount of money they give!)
  • How to get an iPad funded through school or insurance:


Are you wanting your family to help with the purchase of an iPad?

iPad Application Resources

DVD Gift Ideas

  • Disney Sing-Along Songs:
    • Campout at Disney World, Beach Party at Walt Disney World are available at (these videos are real children singing along with Disney Characters. It was the first videos Jordyn would watch other than Barney!)
    • Disney Land Fun, 101 Dalmatians - Pongo & Perdita (these two are also read children singing along with Disney characters and can usually be purchased at Toys R Us or
  • Spectrum Connections: Bounce DVD’s. or can also be purchased at These are educational videos with children singing along with a music therapist.
  • Sells personalized CD's.
  • TV Teacher Videos: Fun dvd’s done by an OT to teach writing letters, shapes, etc.


Gift Opening Tips

  • Children with autism do not always understand the point of opening presents….so teach them!
    • Practice ahead of time. For a few weeks leading up to the holidays, wrap a simple present your child will really like (lollipop, bubbles, ball, favorite snack, etc). Help them open one each day. They will start to learn that good things come inside that paper and they will WANT to open them.
    • If you do not think that your child will like the gifts they are receiving for Christmas, wrap a small treat along with each gift (again gfcfsf lollipop, gfcfsf play dough, bubbles, etc) Something that will give the gift value in your child’s eyes.


Gift Ideas for Therapists

  • Gift cards are always GREAT! (the more I like the therapist the more I reward them!)
  • Do a themed gift. Examples:
    • Popcorn bowl with popcorn, movie gift certificate and a Christmas throw/blanket in it.
    • Cute mixing bowl with a cookie mix, cookie cutters, spatula and other fun kitchen items.
  • Buy a muffin tin and bake muffins in it. Wrap it in clear cellophane paper with a bow (same principle can work with a bread pan)
  • Write a letter to your therapist or teacher letting them know who much they have helped your child (Consider putting it in a frame for them) Give a copy of the letter to their principle or supervisor. (This one only works if you really like the therapist/teacher!)
  • The photo section at has gift tags you can personalize with your child’s photo.
  • It’s an inexpensive way to personalize teacher, therapist or even family gifts. They are 44 cents for a sheet of 4 and super cute. (You will find it in the photo section under greeting cards.)
  • Buy holiday reusable shopping bags to use in place of "traditional gift wrap".


Parent Tips:

  • Be clear with family and close friends if they ask for gift ideas - for 2 years in a row, our son had no interest in presents once they were opened - we let everyone know they should spend minimal dollars but get many gifts to open if they wanted to see joy!
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND
  • I have friends who very honestly told their family that presents were no fun for their family right now, it stressed everyone out with sensory overload. They asked for money going toward annual passes to Disney for the family. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND



  • We attended an extended family reunion a couple of years ago. I made up iron-on signs for my son's T-shirts and a baseball cap. I had the red circle with a line through it and said 'FOOD ALLERGY' and said under it "Don't give this child ANYTHING to eat!" We also kept a close eye on him ofcourse.
    Natalie, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Send out a short note or email to everyone you will be enjoying the company of during the holidays, including office co-workers explaining a few challenges unique to your family at this time of year
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND


Holidays Meals

In general, holiday meals are about sitting down to everyone’s favorite foods! We often think about that yummy food all year long! However, what we consider amazing food is not always our child with autism’s favorite.

Consider letting your child sit down to a plate full of their FAVORITE foods for the family meal. There might not be a single thing that resembles a traditional holiday meal on their plate but that’s ok! They will be happy and in turn it can help set the tone for a successful family gathering. Besides, you have every other day of the year to work on all those foods you want your child to be eating! Let the holiday meal be a special treat.

Want to make a GFCFSF holiday meal?  Some kids really like the traditional holiday meal…if so, here’s some help in making the meal gfcfsf.

For GFCFSF Holiday Recipes



  • Whether you are driving or flying, take a couple of your child’s favorite toys, books or movies away a couple of weeks before your trip. Pull them out during your travels to help pass the time.
  • Whether you are flying or driving, don’t pull out all the toys at the same time!! Do one at a time so you have things to keep them busy and excited the whole trip! (versus only the first hour!)
  • Let your child practice packing and unpacking so it is not a surprise for them to see their things packed up the day before the trip!


Travel Tips for Flying

  • Read TACA's Traveling with your children with ASD
  • If you are worried about getting "the look" from people, take plenty of TACA’s "My Child has Autism" cards and consider putting your child in an autism awareness t-shirt.
  • Check with the airline ahead of time to see if they will allow you to board early if needed.
  • Prepare for the trip by showing your child pictures of the airport, airplane, destination, etc.
  • Create songs (or take a song from their favorite show) about flying.
  • Take your child’s all time favorite snacks to pull out during the flight.


  • Send out a short note or email to everyone you will be enjoying the company of during the holidays, including office co-workers explaining a few challenges unique to your family at this time of year
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND

Enjoying the Moments!

  • Choose something small that you know you can pull off with great success. Something that will turn out just as you imagine and plan for. If you want a trip to visit Santa, make tons of phone calls to find the Santa that will accommodate your family, possibly with a special time. Put all your effort into making that happen if its important to you. If seeing your child with joy opening packages is something you really want to happen, put all your effort into it. If that means nobody will see it but you, tape it to share with others.
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND


School Parties

  • Help plan the party. Try to do activities that your child will enjoy participating in.
    • Something similar to a "cake walk". Put papers with numbers formed in a circle on the floor. Play holiday music and the kids walk around the circle from number to number. When the music stops, draw a number out and that child wins a prize.
  • If at all possible, bring gfcfsf treats for the whole class.
    • Rice Krispie Treats can be made gfcfsf and easily be made into all sorts of holiday treats! For ideas, go to Do NOT follow their recipe as it is not gfcfsf, just use the site for ideas.
  • If surprises are a problem for your child with autism, tell him what is in the package before he opens it.  This can be especially hard at school parties when kids bring gifts for a boy or a gift for a girl and exchange among the class.  It could turn out to be something your child is allergic to, is scared of.  A better idea is to buy a gift for the exchange but buy it for your child and make sure it's designated for him during the class party.  And if helpful, tell him what to expect the present to be.
    Janice, Grand Forks, ND


Sitting Through Services

  • Bring books and/or a favorite stuffed toy
    Betsy, Alameda, CA



  • Many times we expect our extended family to notice the improvements our child with autism has made and we get our feelings hurt if they do not. Rather than expect it, help them see it!  Scrapbook gifts are a great way to help!
    • Make a scrapbook filled with photos, important moments/achievements, events, etc in your family and child’s life. It can help your family notice and celebrate the achievements your child is making if the improvements do not immediately stand out to them.
    • Traditional Scrapbooks- You know the ones that take HOURS to make but look awesome when you are done!
    • •Online Type- has some fairly inexpensive ones and look good when completed.
    • •Simple and inexpensive yet personal: Take construction paper, photos, ribbons, etc and help your child make one for family members.
  • Help your extended family learn that what may seem like a small accomplish for other children, may be HUGE for your child with autism. Even a small step forward for our children is a HUGE step in the right direction!
  • Chanukah - when our daughter was very young, like many kids on the spectrum she was afraid of candle flames and singing. She would run out of the room when I sang the blessings and lit the candles. But once the menorah was lit, we moved it out of the way. Now that she's gone through several years of ABA, speech, etc., she's emotionally more mature. She has her own menorah which she enjoys lighting, and she sings along with me.
    Betsy, Alameda, CA