A mom to five neurodivergent children gives many tips on being inclusive to adults and kids with autism, ADHD and other challenges for the holiday season.
As a parent to five amazing neurodiverse humans, I have learned that dancing with a world that you often find overwhelming can be challenging at times.
There is an intricate process of stepping forward and stepping back as your sensory overload will allow, and the holidays are no exception.
It has been our experience as a family that others are not dismissive of our different social parameters, but rather, they are not fully aware of them.
It has been my experience as a parent that when I have been courageous enough to communicate our journey to others, they have stepped forward and have wanted to be supportive and inclusive.
Teaching other families how to advocate for their children to unlock each child’s greatness is an important facet of the work I’ve been doing as a parenting expert for the last 20 years.
Planning Social Events for Inclusion of Autism, ADHD and Other Neurodiversity
When planning a social event, I suggest being brave by reaching out and asking your guests what might make them feel more comfortable and included, as everyone wants to feel seen, heard, understood and valued.
Fun is enhanced when more people can be included, and we can learn so much from each other by widening our awareness and experience of differences, as we are all looking for connection and belonging. Awareness and our willingness to be inclusive is key.
Here are a few tips on how we can collectively create a more inclusive holiday season for the children (and adults) in our midst:
• Take some time to do research. There are so many amazing podcasts, articles and discussions out there on the experiences of those with autism, ADHD and other neurodivergent abilities to better understand the elements we could consider to enhance the experiences of our guests.
• Understand that each neurodiverse person is a unique individual. Each person will have their own likes and dislikes.
It is so important that you see each person as an individual who has an experience that belongs to them.
• Create an inclusive space for guests. Understanding that environment is often the key to a great experience, it would be great to consider this as you plan events.
• Consider the sensory needs of all. If you are hosting a holiday party where dance music will be played, consider allocating part of the budget to hiring individual headsets so that the music can be transmitted into the headsets.
Those who wish to partake in the music can control the volume with which they receive it, while others can choose to be present, avoiding the music altogether.
Also, spend a little time thinking about the lighting. Softer lighting is often a great option to make the environment inviting for all.
• Offer a combination of individual and collective activities for your guests. Consider the activities that have been planned.
Are there games that can be played both individually and together?
• Carve out quiet “nooks” for those needing respite from the larger group. Having some quiet, darker, comfortable places available for neurodiverse guests to retreat to if overwhelm occurs.
• Openly share the event itinerary with guests to prepare and process ahead of time.
Educating your neurotypical guests on what the plan is for your event and why, often increases understanding, empathy and inclusivity.
• Find ways to proactively communicate the varying participation levels for a holiday’s events to reduce possible stress or triggers.
Create an agreement within your community to easily identify who is participating and who is respectfully choosing not to participate.
• Understand food allergies and sensitivities ahead of any holiday festivities, and plan accordingly.
Food can prove challenging for some folks, as it can create sensory overload.
It would be worth considering reaching out and asking your guests if they have any preferences, or if there are some foods that they prefer to avoid.
Once you’ve gathered this information, it would be a wonderful gesture to place the foods they are comfortable with within reach of where they are seated.
This would help with any anxiety tied to accessing the dishes they prefer, and avoiding the logistics of trying to reach them from across the other side of the table.
If you are having a buffet style celebration, it could be supportive to ask your neurodivergent guests if they would like to take the first pass at the table while things are quiet.
When arranging a seating plan, it could be a thoughtful idea to seat your guests who are on the autism spectrum or with ADHD to be near an exit so that if they needed to remove themselves from the gathering for a moment, they could do so discreetly.
Every person is different and has differing needs. Please be kind to yourself and don’t stress about getting everything absolutely perfect for everyone.
The fact that you care enough to ask and make some alterations to the evening to consider the experience of your guests is truly wonderful and means a great deal.