Autism, loneliness and Christmas

lonelyNot all people with autism will be on their own at Christmas time, and even if they are this doesn’t mean they will be lonely – it might be a self-imposed solitude that will be soothing and relaxing to the individual.  But some autistic people find themselves alone even though they have no desire to be at Christmas time.

There is no miracle cure or solution to this, but below are a few tips to try to help, and make this time of year less difficult.

  • Have a look to see what it available in the local community – there may be social groups set up for people with autism. They might organise days out, or it might simply be getting together to talk.  It doesn’t have to be an autism-specific group – it could be any local social club – or it might be worth looking at what the local church is organising over the festive period, but the advantage of going to autism-specific groups is that the other people there will probably be more able to relate, for example, if the person decides that have had too much social contact and need to leave, nobody will think them rude.
  • Think about possible reasons for the loneliness – the feelings of loneliness might not come from wanting people to socialise with, but rather from just wanting to be around people in general, in which case it might be worth just going out and about a little bit, perhaps just for a walk. The person with autism might not want to join in with the Christmas festivities, they might just want some human contact.
  • Voluntary work – the autistic person might not feel lonely when they are at work, even if they don’t socialise that much with other people. But if work finishes over Christmas and the loneliness sets in, it might be worth looking in to voluntary work. Volunteers are always needed for any charity, and because over Christmas regular volunteers spend time with their families, the need is even greater.  Animals shelters and soup-kitchens are always under-staffed, and in need of help.  Voluntary work looks good on a CV, gives life experience and new skills, helps others, and it may decrease feelings of loneliness as well as increase self-esteem.  It can also be a great way to fill the long Christmas school/college holidays.
  • Volunteering specifically to help other lonely people – people who are lonely should always remember that their feelings are not unique – there may even be somebody on the same street who feels exactly the same. Sometimes elderly people whose families don’t visit suffer during Christmas. Ask charities such as Help the Aged if they have some kind of programme to help these people.  This could mean spending Christmas day with somebody else who feels just as lonely, and thereby helping two people in one go.
  • Structure Christmas day – structuring and planning the weeks around Christmas, and especially Christmas day, can be really useful. For some people sitting in front of the TV for twelve hours eating chocolate, and mince pies feels like an ideal way to pass the time – but for others this is when the feelings of loneliness can set in the most.  Structuring the day so that there won’t be time to think about the loneliness won’t remove it, but may stop it becoming so overwhelming that it can’t be dealt with at all.  It might be that the autistic person has friends on-line, and they could schedule a time to talk with them, – either face-to-face, or just through chat.  Some kind of visual aid would probably be best for this structure – a wall chart, or board on which the plan can be drawn-up – knowing what comes next can help the autistic person to avoid long stretches of free time, when the loneliness is more likely to be felt.
  • Goals for the future – Maybe create a one year goal to see what can be achieved with getting better at socialising before the next Christmas.

Sadly, many people, autistic or not, will feel lonely at Christmas time. Hopefully some of these tips can help to alleviate these feelings. However, they may not work for everybody as all circumstances are different.   ASK-PERGERS? will be available over the Christmas period to offer advice and support to people affected by autism via Twitter, Facebook, and email.  Replies may not be instantaneous, but everything will be responded to in time.  Feelings of loneliness can also sometimes transform in to suicidal feelings, or lead to self-harm, in which case the person should seek professional help.  Lots of people feel this way, and it is nothing to be ashamed of – the best thing to do is seek help as soon as possible.

The following organisations may help you find some form of support in your local area:

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://www.befrienders.org/

http://us.reachout.com/