Christmas tips for autistic people and their families
This guest blog has been written by the National Autistic Society, with advice to help ensure your Christmas celebrations are inclusive and enjoyable for all.
Christmas can be an exciting and fun time. But new activity can be overwhelming for some of us, particularly this year when we’re also dealing with the impact of coronavirus. We might have to adapt some of our usual plans, but that shouldn’t stand in the way of an autism-friendly Christmas. Together with autistic people, we’ve compiled a list of tips for autistic people and their families to make sure everyone enjoys the festivities.
We have shared a number of our ideas with Shout but head over to our website for more information on how to make your Christmas as successful as it can be.
Many autistic people can find any kind of change difficult. Planning and preparation is key in making Christmas as enjoyable as possible.
- Think about ways you can enjoy the festive season that work for you – don’t feel presured into doing things just because that’s what other people do.
- Plan your Christmas in advance with your family, friends and any support services. This is all the more important because of the Christmas coronavirus rules.
- Ensure all plans are shared and you know: what you will be doing; and when and who else will be there.
Christmas is and always will be overwhelming. Christmas scents and candles can be super overwhelming sensory-wise so could be avoided when decorating. Flashing fairy lights can be overwhelming visually.
Many autistic people have a strong need for routine. If schedule and routine is important to you, you might want to:
- Keep your daily schedule the same as possible, including on Christmas Day.
- Gradually introduce Christmas activities into your daily schedule. For instance, you could put up a few decorations on one day and more on another, plan a short Christmas shopping trip or decorate the tree, then switching on the tree lights on another day.
Many autistic people will have differing sensory needs, decorations for some are great whereas others may struggle and find them really overwhelming.
- Plan the most suitable decorations for you and your home, including where best to have them and how many, if any.
- Consider decorating gradually, for example, you could put the Christmas tree in position, decorate it the next day, then put up other decorations even later.
I put my cards up and treasure those for the kind thoughts behind them, but otherwise have no other decorations.
Presents can also be overwhelming: the number of them, the wrapping and unwrapping them; the unclear expectations about how to respond after receiving a present.
- Try telling family and friends what your preferences are in advance, including the number of presents and whether you like them wrapped.
- Make a list of presents you would like to receive and share this with your family and friends. This also removes any element of surprise, if you find that difficult.
Last year my son chose his own main present, and checked it was right when it arrived, then it was wrapped. He felt better knowing his present was right, and it wouldn’t be a surprise, so started the day calm.
Meeting up virtually
This year in particular many people are planning to meet up 'virtually' using an online channel such as Zoom. It might work well for you - you can decide whether you want to join in from your own phone, tablet or laptop and how, for example whether to have your camera and microphone on or off. Equally, if it's not your thing don't feel pressurised to take part.
We hope these tips and ideas help you to have the most successful Christmas you can, visit our website for more details of support for you and your family. If you do feel overwhelmed at any point you can text SHOUT to 85258 for immediate support.
You can also:
- Read our information, advice and guidance about autism and mental health.
- Contact our dedicated helplines for further help and support.
- Contact our Autism Inpatient Mental Health Casework Service, which provides confidential advice and support autistic people at risk of going into inpatient units or stuck in them – or their families.
- Find out about our Autism and Mental Health 2021 online conference.