Christmas Survival Guide

Even though this Christmas is likely to be a bit different this year due to the pandemic, in some ways, because of the temporary easing of restrictions and the recent past, there is even more pressure on everyone to enjoy it. Not to mention embrace every single one of the Christmas rituals of visitors, decorations, turkey and presents. Additionally, coming out of the recent Lockdown there seems to be a feverish attempt to do Christmas preparations at a supersonic speed with some additional hype and a time limit added into the mix.

The whole Christmas season can though be problematic for some autistic people. And the key word in that sentence is “some”. Everyone is an individual and therefore will experience the Christmas Season in a different and unique way. The key message here is that there is not right or wrong way “to do Christmas”.

Although it is up to individuals how Christmas is celebrated, or indeed not celebrated the harsh reality is that there are often huge social expectations attached to it. The pressure of having to socialise and mix with people, including family, who you may not see very often, and due to current circumstances may not have seen for a long time, can be very daunting for people with ASC. For example, if you don’t enjoy physical contact there is little reason to expect that a hug and a kiss from a relative, work colleague or friend, just because its Christmas, is going to be any more welcomed than it would be any day of the year. It may well be worth having a quiet word with visitors in advance of such social situations to avoid this happening.

It might be helpful to ensure that there is always a “quiet Christmas free zone” in your house. This means that an individual can take advantage of it if they feel they need some quiet time. It can also mean that simply knowing that such a space is available removes some of the anxiety. Individuals should be able to choose if, when and how they socialise, just because its Christmas doesn’t mean they should be forced to socialise or attend events or indeed to maintain the mask of being sociable for prolonged periods as this is exhausting.

Routine is often important to people with ASC, it provides stability in the fast-moving kaleidoscope of daily life. At Christmas routine seems to fly out the window only to be replaced with a whole myriad of strangeness that happens but once a year for often, apparently, no logical or explainable reason. Where routines are going to change then this needs to be planned and the individual needs to have some control and input into these changes. Encouraging individuals to get involved and mapping out the activities and events during the period on a large planner can be helpful to provide an advance warning of what’s going to happen and when. Even if they don’t want to get involved having a plan removes the destabilising element of surprise.

Talking of surprises, gifts can be a challenge for a variety of reasons. We have all no doubt received shall we say gifts that can only be described as dubious! Yet we feign surprise and gratitude. Given that honesty is often a key attribute of people with ASC it is unlikely that they will embrace the Christmas gift charade. To avoid upset it is therefore best to tell relatives or friends exactly what gift would be appreciated. Some online sites will allow you to create a “Wish List” that others can look at to help them make better gift choices!

In some cases, “surprises” just create huge anxiety and therefore letting the individual know in advance what they will be receiving and maybe simply not wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree may be the best approach. It is also worth mentioning that some individuals might find wrapping paper a really uncomfortable sensory experience so it may well be worth considering whether presents need to be wrapped or if they can be wrapped in something more acceptable like being put in a cloth bag. If the “surprise” element is a problem then maybe wrapping in cellophane that is see through might help. Gifts can still be exchanged, if desired, but just done in a way that works and reduces anxiety.

Let’s be honest Christmas bombards the senses of those without sensory challenges, if you love this great, but for some people with ASC (as well as lots of other people) Christmas is a complete sensory overload. At home it can be helpful to have only some of the environment decorated. If going out and about, choosing locations such as shopping local instead of shopping centres or city centres can make things more manageable. Choosing times of day that are less busy can be really helpful and some of the big chains of shops also offer specific quiet times of day for people with ASC to shop. If in doubt ring in advance and see when things are generally quieter. Online shopping is often a real help, individuals can still be involved in choosing gifts and the process of it all but from the comfort of their own home.

And then there’s the Christmas dinner itself. Between 46 and 89% of people with ASC have some food sensitivity therefore the whole “Christmas dinner event” can again cause anxiety and stress. We have a separate Blog on mealtimes but in the case of Christmas then it might be that just following normal routines is the best plan. Does it really matter if the individual doesn’t sit down with the rest of the family? Does it really matter if they have what they enjoy eating and avoid the sprouts? The short answer is no!

In fact, the whole answer to Christmas is to simply embrace what works for you and your family. If you choose to go full on traditional with all the bells, whistles and flashing fairy lights then that’s great. But if instead you choose to celebrate in a way that works for you and have your own traditions then that’s also great. In fact, if you choose to ignore the whole thing completely then why not?

Here at I AM we will all be “doing” Christmas in a way that works for us as individuals. We do though want to wish everyone a really happy Christmas and will look forward to the New Year when we have some exciting plans in place.

I AM will close its office on Christmas Eve at 12.30pm but we will be open again on January 4th, 2021 at 9.00am.

For more information about what we do contact admin@i-am-autism.org.uk or give us a call on 0161 866 8483