children's hands coloring Christmas image

Assistive Technology for Holiday Events

Collage of three Santas with mostly wailing children on their laps.

Typical “holiday fun”—flashing lights, music, big parties—isn’t fun for everyone. With autism, epilepsy, or sensory processing disorder, even grocery shopping can be a trigger-loaded environment in December. And what do you do if everyone in your family is eager to see the neighborhood festival, except the one child with autism? Worse, what if you’re already at the festival, everything was fine for an hour or so—but now one child is desperate to leave, another is begging to stay, and it seems someone will have a meltdown no matter what you do?

Advance planning is your best defense against nightmare holiday scenarios. Assistive technology also helps.

Turning Down the Volume

Often, you just need to block one overstimulating element to make an environment tolerable. Auditory elements are easiest to block, with the right earbuds or headphones and the right app.

The myNoise app is super-popular and free to download. If you have an iOS device with AirPods Pro, you may also have Adaptive Noise Control and/or Active Noise Cancellation options. The links below provide details on finding and using these: thanks to Tara Rocha, our BridgingApps Digital Learning Specialist, for doing the research. 

Planning with Apps

Whatever one’s personal limitations, stress makes them worse. There are smart wearables that monitor vital signs, so you can take action early if stress starts rising. But it’s still important to plan all you can in advance: confronting decisions when things are already tense can give anyone brain fog.

It helps your planning to delegate organizing details to apps. Some of our reviewers’ favorites:

When different family members have different schedules, keep at least one app that lets everyone access shared calendars and to-do lists. It heads off those high-stress “but I was counting on you” arguments.

Other Hints and Tips

Apps—or any internet-connected device—can also help you research and organize the following suggestions.

Family in restaurant, with child wearing Santa hat and pulling straw from holiday cup.
  • If you’re interested in public events, look first at close-to-home options, especially “sensory friendly” events that limit visual stimulation, noise, and number of people admitted. The best options include designated “quiet areas.”
  • Bring a designated caretaker/driver if you suspect someone may insist on being taken home early.
  • Never pressure anyone to stay past their tolerance level—or to come in the first place. Whoever “wins” the resulting argument, everyone’s fun will suffer.
  • When invited to a party or family gathering, don’t hesitate to request reasonable accommodations as needed.
  • If you’re hosting a party yourself, keep the environment sensory-friendly, and provide a place of retreat for anyone who feels overwhelmed.
  • Don’t overdo the holiday spirit: too much fun and indulgence will leave everyone tired, cranky, and in poor condition to handle the unexpected. Leave time for healthy meals and plenty of rest.
  • Give everyone the holiday gift of respect for their preferences. Consider it a donation toward the “Peace on Earth” goal!

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