Christmas time can be a really stressful period. It has a kind of duality to it because, it can also be a time where you feel more included in society.
I spoke to some autistic adults about this subject last year, and these are just some of the points we agreed on.
• Surprises can rarely be a good thing, it can be positive, however, the unknown in itself can often be cause of stress, and this may have to be accounted for.
• If surprises are difficult for your child or loved one consider allowing them to help pick out their gifts. I find online shopping to be less stressful. Ask your loved one what they are interested in. Do a quick search online to find the gift and show them what you found to ensure its what they were hoping for.
• Being the centre of attention is potentially difficult for autistic people. I think this is because when you’re younger you can get attention, even when you don’t want it. That makes being singled out (being visible) quite difficult, so it may be best to allow an autistic child to open presents on their own time and space (like their own room and possibly over a few days).
• Scheduled days are tough too because it really depends on your headspace on that particular day, whether you’re comfortable or not, as this can not be surmised beforehand.
• Christmas themed ornaments that play music, can cause audible sensory reactions, especially if it’s high pitched sounds.
• Christmas lights can be great, really stimmy (mentally stimulating), but it can be better to go to view lights during times where there aren’t a lot of people around, reducing stress and sensory overwhelm.
• On Christmas morning, maybe consider having things in their rooms, like small presents to open. Focus on something to play with, or to watch so that if the autistic person or child wakes up early they don’t end up waking up everyone.
• Family gatherings can definitely be overwhelming, maybe let your child go to their room and family visit them on an individual basis. Also remember that if an autistic person doesn’t want company it could be because they are too overwhelmed and need to settle first.
• When wrapping Christmas presents, consider leaving one (or more) until Christmas eve. Put the actual present in a box and include a glow stick or battery operated LED light for a stimulating effect when opening (especially if it’s in the early hours and will still be dark at that time).
• Going into shops at anytime of year can be an intense experience. Your instincts can be aware of everything around you and that can cause panic attacks or a meltdown. Especially if it’s a sensory trigger. This time of year that can be amplified. There is more noise, more people and a lot more sensory information to be aware of. Online shopping may be the best option but if you do need to go to a physical store you will have to take into account the potential impact on you/the autistic person who you are with.
All our best and love
Ross Fraser and Jeni Dern
Words – Ross Fraser
Graphic Design App – Canva
In association with Service Graphics and Courtyard by Marriott, Inverness.