For me Christmas has always been a stressful time because of my autism. This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed Christmas each year, and that I don’t have a lot of fond memories, but the large amount of change, and sensory issues can make it difficult. This article is aimed at giving a few tips that have worked for me over the years, to try to help people with autism with the transition through this difficult time.
- It helps to learn about Christmas – talking/using visual aids
Try to learn about Christmas in the build up to it – spend the weeks before talking, and maybe writing and drawing about it. Maybe learn the history of Christmas, or talk about memories from past Christmases. This helps to get the information in to the autistic persons mind, and makes it less of a sudden change.
- Visitors should let you know when they are coming (and going)
The first thing that I think is important when people visit over Christmas is having somewhere for the person with autism to go, to get away from everything. I don’t mean going away on holiday, but a person with autism could retreat to their bedroom when they want a break. Their families should respect this, and allow them all the time to themselves they need. There is nothing fun about having to be in a social situation if you don’t want to be, and knowing when visitors are arriving, and leaving can help.
- Use a calendar to lead up to the transition
You can do this by simply writing down what you plan to do, and when. This gives the autistic person warning about what is happening, and also a visual aid. You can discuss everything that is on the calendar, and it makes the changes much less sudden. It is a good idea to make this on a big piece of card – you can put it on the wall, and refer to it each day rather than just letting it sit there in the back ground.
- You don’t have to put all your Christmas decorations up in one go
It might be hard for somebody with autism to see such a large change to their house. The easiest way might be just to put a few things up each day. If a tree and lights, and everything that comes with this just appears, this could be difficult for someone who struggles with change, but if you let them get used to things gradually it can be a fun experience. It helps to reduce sensory overload, and the risk of meltdowns.
- Christmas-Free Time
It is also worth reminding the person with autism that they can have time when they don’t have to think about Christmas. Christmas might be very important to them, but equally they might just want to get on with their normal routine. Obviously this won’t be entirely possible so it is worth preparing them for the transition using the techniques above. But to make that transition easier it can be helpful for the autistic child or adult to spend their free time however they want to, not forcing them to do Christmassy things.
Christmas can be a very stressful time of year for people with autism, but if the transition between normal life and Christmas is dealt with smoothly then it can be made much easier. A large part of the stress and worry that most autistic people deal with at Christmas time is brought on by the sudden change. And having a period of transition from everyday life to Christmas time can really help.
There are other strategies to deal with this – some of which can be found in my book*, and some may be provided by the autism community in general. They won’t all work for everybody, but hopefully you found some of this helpful.
*My Mum created what we call Transition Techniques to help me cope with the smaller, daily/weekly/yearly changes, such as Christmas. Full details can be found in my book: