We have thought carefully about the changes that might happen in school on the run up to Christmas. Vice Principal, Lucy Sinclair from Mackenzie Thorpe Centre has put some useful tips together on how teachers can support autistic children in the classroom.

We know that every child is different so please take time to consider what would be appropriate for the children you support.

We have thought about the use of Christmas decorations, nativity, Christmas craft, parties and the change in routine.

Christmas Decorations

For autistic children the change in routing can be different and seeing Christmas decorations in the classroom may be overwhelming because the environment they are used too has changed overnight. This may cause anxiety and result in a child refusing to enter the classroom.

Here are a few ways that you can support a child:

  • Write a social story to explain to pupils why we decorate and make the classroom at Christmas
  • Try to keep the classroom tidy and decorations to a minimal
  • Involve children in decoration the Christmas tree and have say in where it should be placed


School nativity

The timetable in school may have changed to accommodate planning for the school nativity.  Singing, performing, dressing up and singing is all a change in routine which may be confusing for an autistic child but what by far the most unsettling thing is the constant, unpredictable changes to the timetable. The spontaneous practice for the nativity may be exciting for the rest of the class but for an autistic child this change can be too much.

Here are a few ways that you can support a child:

  • Write a social story about what the play is about and why we take part in a nativity play at Christmas
  • Make sure to add a nativity symbol on their visual timetable and schedule
  • Speak to parents about how their child copes at Christmas and what tips they have to support and involve their child
  • If children can’t cope with too much sitting and waiting when the class are practicing the performance then bring a box of activities that are linked to their special interest into the area where the class are performing
  • Do what you can to help the child take part in the performance and always prepare them for anything new. For example ,if the child would like to be a part of the performance show the child the costumes. But you can also consider other important roles such as music, lighting and directing the performance. Having these adaptations will show the child that they are included.


Christmas Crafts

Schools can go craft crazy at Christmas glue, glitter, shiny paper and many competing textures can be a big sensory distraction or overload for some autism children. Which can send them into sensory overload and become dysregulated.

Here are a few ways that you can support a child: 

  • Slow down! It’s better to do one or two activities rather than too many half-finished projects.
  • Do activities based around what the child is interested in. For example, if the child likes Lego let the child make a Lego Christmas Tree, scene or angel
  • Don’t insist that the child must take part in the Christmas craft activity. They may need to do an activity that is based on their regular routine instead. For example if its normally a Maths lesson then let do a maths based activity.


Christmas Party

Getting ready and going to a Christmas party may be too much for an autistic child to process. A party can easily be overwhelming for an autistic child from the different clothes, loud music, smells from the food and dancing but it may also be time for them to relax, not have schoolwork demands and share some of their favourite music.

Here are a few ways that you can support a child:

  • Write a social story about what will happen at the party and what you can do to prepare for it and explain they can wear different clothes for school and that’s ok and make sure that parents have a copy to read at home
  • Put the party date on a visual calendar in the classroom and one at home
  • Let the child choose some music to play and if they feel comfortable give them the job of being DJ
  • Make sure there is a quiet space/sensory areas for the child to go too if the party gets too much
  • Prepare a buddy group so friends can support each other at the party
  • Encourage children to bring a favourite toy to the party as a point of comfort
  • Have a visual card showing their emotions that the child can show a trusted adult if they were feeling overwhelmed

Change in Routine

All the activities that happen for Christmas are not what we do normally. As the last couple of weeks arrive some of the pupils are tired, some are excited and the usual routines are abandoned for play, nativity practice, movies and craft sessions. Autistic children may also be tired, overloaded and exhausted from trying to keep up with all the different things that are happening. They may be anxious or over excited about Christmas and find it difficult to regulate their emotions.  

Here are a few ways that you can support a child:

  • Don’t forget their visual timetable it will be more important than ever to communicate what is happening and when
  • Consider having more sensory calming breaks, so the child has time to regulate
  • Have a stack of activities that they can access independently when others are doing something that they find uninteresting
  • Any autistic child can find a change in routing difficult, planning and preparation is key in making Christmas as enjoyable as possible.
  • We know it may be difficult to accommodate the many individuals in your class, however taking some time to think ahead and take into account the autistic child in your care will ensure everyone has access to the Christmas fun in their on way.

Making these changes promotes inclusivity and it will mean the world to the child’s family to see them involved in Christmas activities.

Find out more from our Festive Resources