With Christmas being such a stressful time for people with autism, meltdowns can often increase in frequency. These could take place in the build up to Christmas, over Christmas time itself, or even deep in to January, during the transition back from Christmas time to normal life. The sensory, transitional and change related issues can all cause, or contribute to meltdowns. Below are a few tips on how to avoid this as far as possible.
- Avoid crowds – if a person with autism knows that they struggle in crowds, and that crowded situations can often lead to stress, which can lead to outbursts/meltdowns, then there is no point putting themselves in that kind of situation if it can be avoided. It might be worth thinking about where to go, and what time to go; trying to choose the quietest places and times. It is important to remember how places such as shops, restaurants, and bars can be much busier at Christmas time.
- Establish a new routine – at Christmas time the everyday routine changes, and this change in routine can cause anxiety, leading to meltdowns. It might be worth planning a new routine for the holiday period well in advance. This could perhaps be put up on a chart or calendar, and kept up over the festive period. It means that instead of just floating around, and not really know what it happening and when, the autistic person will have a new routine to follow, and this will hopefully be less stressful.
- Don’t be pressured in to doing Christmas social activities – hand in hand with the new routine idea it is also helpful to plan how to say no to unwelcome social activities. Being pressured in to doing social activities at Christmas time can also bring on meltdowns. If somebody wants to go out and spend time with their friends or colleagues that’s fine, but if the autistic person knows that a certain amount of social interaction will probably bring on an outburst/meltdown/shutdown, then there is no point putting themselves in to that situation unnecessarily. Doing something simply because everyone else is doing it is pointless. If it is something the person with autism doesn’t want to do they should not feel pressured.
- Plan ahead – it is important that when the autistic person is going out they take the time to plan, and organise this to minimise the risk of outbursts and meltdowns. This could include having a time limit on how long they want to stay out – making a plan in their head, or on a piece of paper, or tablet going over what they will do, and where they will go can help reduce anxiety. Scheduling in the fact that plans may change at short notice, and thinking before-hand what they might do if this happens i.e. try to go along with the change, or come home. Trying to go out with a smaller group of friends who have an understanding of autism can be helpful. It might also be worth planning when to go out to try to avoid the worst of the crowds – depending on where the person is going, and what they are going to do, this might not always be possible.
- Keep elements of usual routine – the autistic person should not feel under pressure to change their routine too much. Many autistic people enjoy Christmas the same as everyone else, but if the person doesn’t want to change their diet, or put decorations up for example, they don’t need to. And they should not feel as if they are obliged to do so just because it`s what everyone else does at Christmas.
- Take time to relax away from noise and people – breaks are always an essential point of avoiding meltdown for people with autism, and at Christmas time this is even more important – simply because of how much there is to have a break from. Just taking some time out to spend alone can alleviate a lot of the tension, and stress that may have built up, and be key in helping to avoid a large scale meltdown.
In conclusion, it is important to take time out away from social interaction and noise when needed, and also to prepare for the time spent with other people. Being aware of the problems that Christmas can cause can be helpful when trying to tackle meltdowns. Christmas can be just as enjoyable for people with autism as everybody else, and everyone will have their own ways of dealing with it. A lot of the techniques in this article might sound as if they are written for adults, but they can be implemented for children as well. Taking a more proactive approach before the problems arise can help prevent meltdowns. These tips won`t completely remove the possibility of meltdowns, but hopefully they will help to some degree.