Navigating New Year’s Eve with Kids on the Autism Spectrum: A Guide to Sensory-Friendly Celebrations

New Year’s Eve, a night of joy and anticipation for many, can pose unique challenges for families with kids on the autism spectrum or those with sensory processing disorders (SPD). However, with thoughtful planning and a touch of creativity, you can ensure a more comfortable and enjoyable celebration for your child. Our therapists have shared valuable insights and suggestions to help you navigate New Year’s Eve with your child on the autism spectrum or with SPD.

Celebrate at Noon or with a Different Time Zone

Consider breaking from tradition and celebrating the arrival of the New Year at noon instead of midnight. This alternative allows your child to partake in the festivities without disrupting their bedtime routine. If noon feels too early, consider celebrating with a European country’s time zone (e.g., 7 PM ET for London or 8 PM ET for Paris), allowing your child to enjoy the excitement while still maintaining a reasonable bedtime.

Explain New Year’s Eve & What They Can Expect

Take the time to explain the global celebration of New Year’s Eve and any specific traditions your family follows. Address the possibility of fireworks in the neighborhood by describing the sounds and emphasizing their safety. Watching fireworks videos on platforms like YouTube can familiarize your child with the visual and auditory experience. Consider skipping loud noise makers and opt for quieter more familiar toys if your child enjoys making noise.

If you plan to go out, discuss the event with your child and establish a “safe space” or escape plan. Prepare a sensory-friendly kit with items such as sunglasses, headphones, books, portable toys, comfort toys, and familiar foods to ease stress during celebrations at a restaurant or another location.

Host the Party at Home

Hosting the New Year’s Eve party at home provides greater control over the environment, ensuring a comfortable space for your child. Designate a quiet retreat space in advance, equipped with dimmed lighting, a sound machine, soft pillows and blankets, weighted blankets, and sensory tools your child uses for a sensory diet.

When hosting the celebration at home, engaging your kiddo in the planning process can significantly alleviate any anxiety they might feel about the event. Include them in planning the guest list, so that they know who will be there. Allow them to be a part of setting the menu, so they know there will be food that they enjoy. If they enjoy cooking, you can even encourage them to help you prepare the food.

Decorations, though essential, can overwhelm kids with ASD or SPD. Empower your child to select and hang streamers and balloons, ensuring a comfortable atmosphere. If they love arts & crafts, consider letting them make their own ball for the ball drop out of balloons, foam, play doh, cardboard, or even paper mâché. When the moment comes, drop this ball from a deck or simply throw it up into the air. 

Plan a Fun Family Night In

Create a cozy fort in the living room using old bedding, comfortable pillows, and blankets and enjoy a family movie in the fort. Consider using a weighted blanket to reduce anxiety, especially if your neighborhood gets loud during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

If your family enjoys board games or puzzles, plan a night of bonding and fun around the table. This relaxed setting allows for quality family time without the sensory challenges of larger gatherings.

Encourage your child to create a memory book of their favorite moments from the past year. This can be a creative project, incorporating drawings, colors, or even a written story. The best part? You can keep this as a keepsake to revisit every year.

Help your children write down their New Year’s resolutions. If they love arts & crafts, supervise them while they cut up old magazines or help them print out pictures from the internet for a vision board of their goals that can be hung in their room for inspiration in the upcoming year.

Keep Your Plans Flexible

Remember, flexibility is key. Be prepared to adapt plans or even leave an event early if needed. Additionally, consider using a soothing sound machine for light sleepers to ease bedtime, especially if fireworks are expected in your neighborhood. With careful planning, you can create a New Year’s Eve that is enjoyable for your child and the entire family.

If you are interested in learning more about how Schreiber’s Pediatric Behavioral Health Services and Occupational Therapy Services can help your child visit

As a nationally recognized pediatric facility, the Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development provides family-centered education and therapy programs for infants, children and adolescents with disabilities, developmental delays, and acquired injuries. Our goal-oriented approach maximizes each child’s ability to function independently within the community.