NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Loud music, bright lights and the robust smell of the holiday season can easily become overwhelming to someone on the autism spectrum.

But despite the extra challenges it can bring, some tweaks on holiday traditions can easily make activities more enjoyable for all. 

“We all kind of know our kids pretty well,” said Terri Larson, a program manager with Autism Families CONNECTicut. “So, if you notice that your child is overwhelmed, make sure to take those breaks, and go to a break room, or step out.

It all starts with doing a little homework. She suggests outlining what activities are planned, and what can be expected at each of them. Larson said children on the autism spectrum do well with a piece of paper that shows a day’s structure and schedule.

Constant change can be difficult for someone who has autism and thrives under schedules. The National Autistic Society in the United Kingdom suggests keeping schedules as close to normal as possible, and then gradually introducing holiday activities. For a child who hates surprises, put presents underneath the tree unwrapped, space out gifts or place a picture on the outside of the wrapping paper of what is inside.

If someone is on a certain diet, Larson suggests sticking to it. Planning outfits in advance can also keep things go smoothly.

To help with sensory overload, bring headphones to dampen sound, and carry something to keep hands busy. Find a quiet place to step into when things get overwhelming, and know when to return to an activity, or leave.

Larson said that if an adult or young adults gets quiet, or stands up and goes back and forth to the bathroom, it could be a sign that they’re becoming overloaded.

“Most of the time, it’s just a matter of listening and letting them express what might be causing them to be overwhelmed,” she said.

She recommends explaining a child’s needs to family members, and making sure that the child has a role in planning activities.

Finding support is critical, according to Taylor Edinger, a program manager at Autism Families CONNECTicut. 

“I think it’s especially helpful for people to make connections within the community of other parents, peers with autism or those who have sensory preferences that are not typical, just so they have that support system, and we’ve established that pretty well at AFC to be able to have a network of families,” she said. “So, I think it really provides us a source of comfort for the families, the kids, and we just see it each week, and we see a difference it makes, when they do have that support.”

Several events in December will provide autism-friendly opportunities, from special Santa photo opportunities, to holiday parties, to performances where the sounds are turned down, lights are on and people can get up and move.

Here are some holiday autism-friendly events happening this year in Connecticut:

Dec. 3 – Bushnell Center sensory-friendly open house

10 a.m. to noon

The event will include a visit with Santa and a showing of Elf.

Registration is required

Dec. 4 – Sensory-friendly Santa

9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Danbury Fair

Registration is required.

Dec. 4 – Sensory-friendly Santa

9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Connecticut Post Mall.

Registration is required.

Dec. 4 – Sensory-friendly Santa

9 a.m. to 10:20 a.m. at Westfarms

Reservations are required

Dec. 11 – Sensory-friendly Charles Dickens Christmas

10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Playhouse on Park

Tickets are $10

Dec. 16 – Autism Families CONNECTicut holiday party

5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Prism Academy in Berlin

The event will include pizza, a DJ, Santa and balloon art. Tickets are $25 per family.