Navigating the Joyful & Jumpy Journey: Christmas in a Neurodivergent Family!

Christmas Market in Cologne at night

Christmas = Magic time or sensory nightmare?

The twinkle of lights, the scent of gingerbread, the joyous carols… Christmas should be a time for cozy moments and heartwarming memories.

Yet, for many families and even more so for families with neurodivergent children or parents, the festive season can also bring a rollercoaster of emotions and sensory overload.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the merry mayhem, you’re not alone. Many families with neurodiverse individuals struggle with the heightened expectations and social demands of Christmas. 

But fear not, fellow festive warriors! Here are some strategies to navigate the season with a smile and some jingle in your soul.

Autistic child wearing a christmas jumper looking up and holding presents

Embrace the Anti-Overwhelm Checklist:

1.Brain Drain:

Dump all those festive to-dos onto paper. List everything, from teacher gifts to nativity concerts 

2. Strike it from the List: 

Now, channel your inner Marie Kondo and identify the tasks that spark zero joy (and possibly some anxiety). Decorations that take hours to untangle? Skip them. Forced family karaoke? Politely pass. Crossed off? Breathe a sigh of relief!

3. Strike it from the List TOO:

Anything that is out of your control or not urgent…OUT IT GOES

4. Summon Your Support Squad:

Remember, you’re not a one-woman (or man) sleigh team. DELEGATE, enlist helpers, and tap into your amazing support network whether in person or online (a friend cheering you up or body doubling with you for 2 hours on whatsapp can be as powerful). 

5. Get started:

You should now have a much more limited list, give them numbers to prioritise what is more important and get started!


Neurodivergent family, a mum with ADHD wearing a white christmas jumper and her too sons also wearing Christmas jumpers

Identify what actually matters!

What is REALLY important for you at Christmas? 

Is it spending quality time with loved ones, creating meaningful memories, and fostering that warm, fuzzy feeling?

One year that we spent Christmas home (rare as we normally go back to FRance) I bought frozen party food and we stayed in our PJs. We played games, eat small finger food all day and watched movies. It is one of the most precious memories I have…and there was no cooking, turkey or fancy wine.

Focus on those moments, and let the rest jingle away into the background.

Sensory Savvy: Calming the Christmas Chaos:

For neurodivergent individuals, the festive season can be a sensory minefield. Bright lights, loud music, and crowded spaces can quickly lead to meltdowns and Grinch-worthy grumbles. Here’s how to keep the holiday cheer calm and collected:

  • Cozy Corners: Create a calm haven for sensory respite. A quiet room/time with dimmed lights, soothing music, and comfy blankets can work wonders.
  • Dim the Dazzle: Opt for softer lighting options or designate “low-light zones” where sensory-sensitive individuals can retreat.
  • Music Muted? No Problem: Offer noise-canceling headphones or earplugs as an escape from the jingle bell barrage.
  • Foodie Flexibility: Embrace safe foods and individual preferences. Don’t stress if someone prefers Chicken nuggets to Brussels sprouts; it’s the togetherness that counts!

Gift Graciousness: 

The pressure to find the “perfect” present can be immense, especially for those with neurodivergent loved ones. Remember, it’s the thought (and sensory compatibility) that counts:

  • Unwrap the Uniqueness: Consider alternative gift options like experiences, sensory toys, or personalized items that cater to individual interests and needs.
  • Less is More: Sometimes, smaller, more manageable gifts can be a welcome relief from sensory overload. Quality over quantity, right? Or we have at times, given smaller gifts throughout the weeks before rather than having to wait for one massive gift overload.
  • The Gift of Time: Sometimes, the best present is simply spending quality time together. Build forts, have a movie marathon, or play a board game (without the competitive meltdown, hopefully!).

Remember, the magic of Christmas isn’t measured by perfectly wrapped presents or flawless family photos.

It’s about connection, joy, and creating memories that resonate with everyone’s unique needs.


Take a deep breath, embrace the imperfections, and let your neurodivergent family jingle all the way to a happy (and hopefully calm) holiday!

Peggy Cheyo, woman with ADHD is showing off her new earrings she got for Christmas

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