Embracing the Holidays: Navigating Gatherings with Autism

"I wanted to share some strategies and insights that may help your loved one from my first-person perspective."

By Kerry Magro


A young boy in a navy shirt sits next to a christmas tree with the words "don't jude. It's everyone's holiday season."

Kerry Magro is an award-winning international motivational speaker and best-selling author who’s on the autism spectrum. A version of his blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

Don’t judge. It’s everyone’s holiday season.

With the holiday season upon us, I’ve been reflecting on my autism journey as a younger child. It looked much different than it does now as an adult. Whether it was during Christmas with the family or a holiday gathering, I’d often be alone in the corner, trying to avoid too much social interaction and strong sensory input. While my family would be eating beef, chicken, or some other holiday feast, I’d be snacking away on my favorite snacks like cheese doodles and goldfish.

Today, as a professional speaker who has overcome many challenges growing up, I often talk in my presentations to schools and companies about the importance of inclusion and celebrating differences. With that in mind, I wanted to share some strategies and insights that may help your loved one from my first-person perspective.

Realize That Your Needs Are Valid: Set Boundaries

Autistic people can sometimes mask which can lead to challenges during the holidays. It’s important to recognize and accept your own needs. For example, if large gatherings are overwhelming, it’s okay to limit your time at these events. If you are at a large table, choosing to sit with one or two people you feel comfortable with may be more manageable for you. Communicate your needs to family and friends ahead of time so they can help create this environment for you.

Structure Is Key

Communicate with the family host to know the details of the event in advance. Knowing the location, the number of guests, and the schedule can help reduce anxiety.

Create a Safe and/or Sensory Space

Identify a quiet room or space where you can go if you feel overwhelmed. For me, this was a couch downstairs where I could retreat, and my parents would have an NBA game on. This space had toys where I could take a break and recharge.

Bring Sensory Tools

I carried around a sensory brush that I would rub on my hands to come back to a place of normalcy and self-regulate. Consider you or your loved one’s sensory sensitivities and bring a bag with you of toys and/or tools to help.

Disclose With A Family Member About Potential Challenges

If you are newly diagnosed, you may want to confide in a family member. Having a village of support can potentially help your holiday experience.

Navigating holiday gatherings can be a challenge, but hopefully, with these tips, you and your loved ones can have a joyous holiday. Wishing you and yours Happy Holidays!

Autism Speaks does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Rather, Autism Speaks provides general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties. The views and opinions expressed in blogs on our website do not necessarily reflect the views of Autism Speaks.