As the calendar year comes to an end, most are gearing up for celebrations,
get-togethers, and activities. These events are typically filled with loud noises, music, and bustling crowds. Typically these moments sound like fun, but if you have a child with autism it can be a challenging season to navigate.
Prepare for celebrations in advance. Let your loved ones know what to expect on New Year’s Eve. Visual schedules and social stories can come in handy!
If your child is prone to wandering, take extra precautions. Like the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve can be stressful for children with sensory struggles and noise sensitivities, which often leads to unsafe behaviors, like elopement.
Whether you are going out and about or staying at home, create a quiet space or encourage your child to ask for breaks. Giving them the opportunity to take a breather can help if they become overwhelmed during the celebrations. Make sure your child is familiar with their break options.
Remember that every child is different! Your child may love the festivities around New Year’s Eve, but if it’s not for them, that’s ok, too! When it comes down to it, December 31 is really just like any other day of the year.
Ideas for a Sensory-Friendly New Year’s Celebration
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, staying up until actual midnight may not be a great idea.
Consider celebrating earlier in the evening, perhaps around when your kids regularly go to bed.
Another option is you can coordinate all the clocks without your kids catching on, you could even set them forward to mimic midnight. Just remember to change them back on New Year’s Day!
Noon Year’s Eve Party
Instead of heading out of the house for a party ‘til midnight, create your own “Noon Year’s Eve” party fit for the kiddos. If your child is comfortable with a change in their surroundings, add some balloons to your décor and grab a few yearly-themed party hats or flashing necklaces and glow sticks. Have your own “ball drop” by putting balloons in a box or large bag at the top of the stairs or on a second level and letting them fall down.
Keep a New Year-themed Sensory Box Handy
Along with New Year’s comes confetti, glitter, streamers, and more. While you might want to stay away from the party horns and loud poppers, you could put together a box with some fun New Year-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 jar as you turn it upside down is an excellent calming tool.
psake to look back on all your child’s accomplishments.
A Different Take on Fireworks
The loud unexpected sounds, flashing colors, and general unpredictability may cause sensory overload for some. 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.
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 must 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?!
Consider handing out balloons to family and friends and counting 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.
Include Favorite Foods in the Celebration
Food. It’s a big part of any celebration and including one’s favorites tends to put a smile on most people’s faces. 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.
Opt for a Special, Sensory-Friendly Family Night
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.
Make a 2023 Memory Book
Not all end-of-the-year celebrations need to center around fireworks and disco balls. For many, a quiet day at home reflecting on the past year might be the perfect way to lead into 2024. To do this with your kiddos, print out photos of some of the family’s favorite memories and achievements from the past year to create a 2023 memory book together. Have your child select which photos to place into a photo album, or make your own scrapbook with construction paper, a hole punch, and some ribbon to tie the pages together. Make sure to talk about what they did on each of these occasions as you tape or glue the photos into the book. Not only is it a great way to wrap up the year, but you’ll have a nice keepsake to look back on all your child’s accomplishments.
New Year's doesn't always have to be loud noises and over-the-top crowds. Make the most of your NYE by remembering all the best parts of starting a new year with your loved ones!