Christmas can be a tricky time for neurodiverse children. This could be the case if your child is autistic or has ADHD or a sensory processing disorder.

Parenting coaches from Action for Children’s Parent Talk, a free and confidential digital advice service, have shared these tips to help your child cope with the festive period.

Parenting coach Megan Wright said: ‘Children with neurodiversity may find it hard to adjust to things like different lights, colours, sounds, smells, textures and tastes. It might be that their senses become overwhelmed. Changes to their routine can also affect how they feel. Planning in advance can help you all adapt and enjoy the Christmas celebrations.’

1. Make a list

Make a list of what your child finds difficult. This could be anything from big crowds, loud noises, surprises or bright lights. Try to think about when they might experience those. How could you avoid those situations? If that isn’t an option, consider how you can help your child prepare.

2. Involve them in decisions

Let your child have a say in the Christmas decorations around your home. Ask them to help you choose lights, colours and textures that they feel comfortable with.

3. Prepare them for gifts

Some children with additional needs find surprises overwhelming. You might want to let them know what type of gifts they will open on Christmas Day. For example, you could tell them you will give them a book, and the surprise is which book you choose. It can also help to:

• Spread gift giving over a period of time or different days.

• Give gifts without wrapping.

• Talk to friends and family to explain that your child’s responses to gifts might not be what they expect.

4. Create a safe space

Keep at least one room in the house free of decoration. Try to make sure it looks like it usually does. This can be a safe space for your child if they feel overwhelmed.

5. Consider any changes in routine

Try to prepare your child for what’s coming each day. Talk to them about who will be there, what they will do and what they’ll eat. Some children might like to have some control over some of these things. You could give them a choice between two or three different activities.

Try to keep some of their routine the same. It can be helpful to start and end their day with something you would usually do. Think about morning routines, as well as bath time, bedtime and story time.

6. Plan for visitors

You may also need a plan for the possibility of unexpected visitors. If your child struggles with visits at home or going out, think about how you can help. You could:

• See if your child wants to stay at home with another family member when you go out.

• See if they want to play in a different room.

• If other children are visiting, agree with your child which toys they are happy to share and which they want to put away before your guests arrive.

• Share pictures of visitors in advance, so they’re familiar with their faces.

7. Be conscious of sound and smells

Let your child know when there is going to be strong smells in the house. It can help to protect their bedroom from any smells or give them alternative scents. Try essential oil rollers or lip balm on their wrists.

If there are fireworks near you, talk to your child about what to expect with the noise. Make some firework pictures together to turn it into a positive experience. Ear defenders are also helpful for some children.

For more support and advice visit Action for Children’s Parent Talk.

This Christmas, join Action for Children and become a Secret Santa for a vulnerable child - visit You could help a vulnerable child feel the magic of Christmas.