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Managing autism during the Christmas Season

As penned by The Autistic Teacher, the Christmas season, though a time of joy and celebration, can also bring about numerous challenges for autistic individuals. From the overwhelming lights and decorations to the myriad of events and changes in routine, it indeed requires careful navigation and adaptation for autistic children and adults alike.

Overwhelm from Decorations and Changes

The Christmas lights, decorations, visitors, events, music, different foods, and smells can be extremely overwhelming for autistic individuals. Should you feel the need for minimal decorations in your house, then by all means, do that! It's also a good practice when visiting people to ask for a quiet and safe space where you or your child can regulate. Remember, you don't have to join in with everything. Do what works best for you and your family.

The Challenge with Food

Autistic people often struggle with food due to sensory differences or anxiety. This doesn't make them fussy or picky eaters - these are real issues. It's essential to ensure that you have foods you are comfortable with during the festive season. Yes, even if that means having chicken nuggets available for Christmas dinner! It's all about doing what works best for you.

Managing Presents

The issue of presents introduces a whole new layer of things to consider. For instance, as an autistic person, one might worry whether their facial expression is portraying the right emotion while opening gifts. It causes a lot of anxiety. It's crucial not to demand that you see children open their presents.

Sometimes, too many presents at once can be overwhelming, and it might be better to stagger them throughout the day. For others, the wait is more anxiety-inducing, and they need to open them all at once.

There's an element of surprise that comes with presents, and many autistic people struggle with this. One year, I used cellophane to wrap presents so that my children could see what was inside. This significantly reduced anxiety but still didn't quite hit the mark. With fine motor difficulties, we discovered gift bags were the best option. Agreeing on what presents people will get you with a list might work too. Again, it's all about doing what works for you!

Handling Christmas Events

Christmas events can be overwhelming due to the noise and large crowds. Christmas tree light-ups, family events, visits to Father Christmas - all these might require adaptations. Consider a safe place at home or a family member's house where you can regulate. Use ear defenders when out and about. Don't push children to see Father Christmas if they don't want to - they don't know him! And definitely consider a calendar with events on it so that everyone knows what is happening and when. When routine changes it helps to know what and what is happening instead. Remember, you don't have to do everything!

Socialising During the Season

Along with the other demands of Christmas events is the challenge of socialising. While it can be lovely to see people, it can also be exhausting, especially for those who find conversation challenging. A quiet space can help, and knowing when you will be leaving can ease the stress. There can be lots of hugs with family too - some people find this awkward. It's always important to ask if it's okay, and never force a child to hug or kiss someone they don't want to.

Enjoy the Season YOUR WAY!

Christmas is a time for everyone to enjoy, and it's really important that you and your family do what works for you! It doesn't make Christmas any less special if you don't have too many decorations, or you have chicken nuggets for dinner, or if you don't all have matching Christmas pyjamas! Above all, enjoy the season YOUR WAY!

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