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A how-to guide on creating a low-arousal sensory environment for autistic friends attending your New Year’s get-together

Seasonal occasions like Christmas and New Year can be incredibly difficult for our autistic friends – mainly because they are prone to sensory overload and get stimulated very easily. You may already be aware of your friend’s dislike of bright lights, loud noises, and sporadic displays of affection, and might wonder what you can do to make them feel comfortable at a New Year’s gathering or get-together. This is our low-arousal sensory environment how-to guide: we hope you find these tips useful. We’ll start by explaining what a low-arousal sensory environment is.

What is a low-arousal sensory environment?

Otherwise known as the `low arousal approach`, creating a low-arousal environment typically involves dimming or lessening sensory stimulants to reduce stress in autistic adults, like:

  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises
  • Crowded spaces
  • Limited personal space
  • And more.

1. Keep the lights down low

Some people experience autism light sensitivity. This means bright, fluorescent, or flashing lights can cause sensory overload and lead to an abundance of symptoms [link to what is sensory overload blog] including panic attacks, irritability, feeling unwell, and more. Your friend may be experiencing autism light sensitivity if:

  • They start to blink quickly
  • They shield their eyes
  • They avoid sources of artificial light – lamps, TVs, etc.

To ease autism light sensitivity, you can:

  • Switch off unnecessary lights, lamps, TVs, etc.
  • Open the curtains to bring in natural daylight
  • Ask your friend if they’d like to step outside/into a different and less stimulating room

To learn more, please visit austismtalkclub.com/autism-and-light-sensitivity.

2. Don’t overload them with conversation

Some autistic adults struggle to pick up social cues and dislike being part of a large crowd – so try to keep the conversation short and sweet. As a double-whammy, strangers also cause stress in autistic adults. If your friend looks anxious, awkward, or jittery, they might be overwhelmed by talking and a little breather could be in order.

3. Consider avoiding party poppers

Loud noises commonly cause stress in autistic adults. Autistic people are generally averse to loud, sudden noises. This could be a problem when the clock strikes twelve and those party poppers and shouts of `HAPPY NEW YEAR!” propel around the room. If you have an autistic friend in attendance, check whether they’re OK with loud noises or would feel more comfortable wearing headphones.

4. Be mindful that hugs (and kisses!) aren’t for everyone

Autistic people are sensitive to touch… and while some individuals like it, others loathe it! Always ask permission before you go in for a friendly hug, kiss, or even a back pat.

5. Be accepting if they do not want to be involved

It’s totally fine for your friend to enter and leave the gathering as they please… so try not to be offended if they disappear all of a sudden. There are a number of sensory things that can trigger them.


Autism looks different in everybody – the spectrum is wide, and there’s no `one size fits all`. It could be useful to find out what your autistic friend’s likes and dislikes are, and how they tolerate lights, sounds, and touch – along with social situations in general. Be mindful not to make a big deal out of it, but do consider the environment every so often and check they’re comfortable. Oh, and remember to talk to your friend(s) openly about the subject if you feel you can!

Continue reading about stress in autistic adults

Link What is Sensory Overload?



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