Christmas Cheer and Challenge
Before signing off for my Christmas holiday, I’m taking a moment to send you all my very best wishes for a safe and happy Christmas. It has been an eventful year here at Your Autism Mentor and a pleasure meeting and working with many wonderful young people, families, and professionals. Thank you, as always, for all your support.
I wanted to share with you my thoughts on how Christmas can be a challenging time for many autistic people. Having chatted with many young people about their experiences of Christmas, whilst many spoke excitedly and were looking forward to their own family traditions, others described it as a challenging and unpredictable time where they experience heightened levels of anxiety. They explained how changes in their routines, food, sensory sensitivities (“does anyone really like flashing Christmas lights?”), increased social pressures (“do I really have to hug Granny”), presents, surprises and expectations, all contribute to their anxiety at this time.
“Hey everyone enjoys Christmas, right?
So how can we help to remove some of the challenge and anxiety surrounding Christmas for autistic family members? As a mentor, I obviously believe in the power of communication, and taking the time to actively explore what the Christmas experience is like for the individual. Really listening to how they feel and what we can do to support them in making this time more inclusive. If you are an autistic person, seek support from your parent, family member or trusted adult and help them understand what it is like from your perspective. Chris Bonnello provides some great advice from his own, and other autistic people’s perspectives of Christmas describing the many contributory factors which can make this a time of high anxiety. IndieAndy also provides his own valuable Christmas advice in his YouTube video.
Let’s make a plan
Alongside clear communication, having a ‘Christmas Plan’ can help provide increased predictability and certainty and reduce levels of anxiety. When making a plan, considerations might include:
- Who is involved in your Christmas celebrations?
- What is going to happen each day?
- Are all activities essential or are some negotiable?
- What aspects of normal daily routines can be incorporated into Christmas plans?
It might help to make the plan visual. This could be a daily outline of each day written on a whiteboard as in the example here, a printed schedule for the whole Christmas period or a timed schedule, e.g. “at 1pm Granny will arrive, at 2pm we will eat Christmas dinner, at 3pm, we will play board games”.
Be prepared for change. Even the best laid plans can go wrong or be affected by factors outside of our control. Creating “what if ….” scenarios can help prepare for unexpected changes. For example, “what if Christmas lunch is not served at 2pm? I can listen to my music until it is ready”.
Having a quiet, safe space within your home is essential for times when things might become overwhelming, or some time spent alone is needed. Create your own ‘toolbox’ of emotional supports which are right for you (headphones, ipad, book).
Making these preparations and plans alongside actively listening to and respecting autistic perspectives, concerns and questions can make this time as predictable and certain as possible and subsequently, reduce levels of anxiety.
Below are links to a few other articles which you might find beneficial in helping to make Christmas a time of cheer for everyone, to ensure we value and respect individuality whether we are autistic, neurodivergent or neurotypical.
Please enjoy a safe and happy Christmas and here’s looking forward to a healthy and successful 2022!
Please note all opinions made within this blog and on my website, are my own. These have been informed through my practical work experience, study and reflection.