Christmas! The most wonderful time of the year for many. A time for sharing gifts, laughter and spending time with your love ones. However, Christmas often comes with higher levels of stress. For the neurotypical, this may be manageable, but for the 700,000 people in the UK that are on the autistic spectrum, Christmas has the potential to cause high levels on anxiety and distress.
Autism impacts how a person experiences the world around them, including how they see, hear and feel. The Christmas period is a busy time, defined by bright lights, lots of social events and loud noises which can be overwhelming for an autistic adult. Luckily, as a friend or family of an autistic adult, there are lots of things you can do to make this time happy and enjoyable for them.
- Ask them what works best for them
The Christmas period is a time of colourful flashing lights, loud music and decorations. This can be highly distressing for an autistic adult due to their sensory needs.
The National Autistic Society ran a campaign to help the public understand how autistic individuals process the world around them. The campaign, called ‘too much information’, has over 6.6 million views and highlighted that an autistic person can be sensitive to lights, sounds and smells. All of these things can go into overdrive at Christmas.
If you are having friends or family over and you know one of them is autistic, ask them (or their family) about their personal preferences to things like decorations, music and overwhelming smells (e.g. candles or incense). Just like you would ask if someone has any allergies you should be aware of, you’re asking how to make them feel comfortable in your home.
This could be anything, from turning the music down a bit or turning your Christmas lights of the flashing mode. These simple adjustments can help a lot!
2. Let them know where they can go to take a break if needed
Everyone needs a break from the Christmas cheer! If you have an autistic adult visiting, letting them know where they can escape to for a break if they need to. This is particularly helpful when they may not know the layout of your home or feel rude asking.
Planning your day in with an hours down time is especially helpful. This means that everyone can get a bit of rest, quieten down and enjoy the peace and quiet for a bit!
3. Try and keep schedules as normal as possible
The need for routine and predictability is common with autism, as Christmas brings a whole host of new events, activities, foods and people. You can help an autistic adult by trying to keep their schedule as normal as possible. This may include waking up and going to bed at the same time, eating meals at regular times and doing things they’re familiar with.
Other simple things that you should be mindful of include arriving on time to plans, following any schedule they provide for the meeting, and offering to work around their normal routine wherever possible. Remember, what may seem insignificant to you, like cancelling a get together or being 10 minutes late, can have serious implications to an autistic person’s emotional state.
4. Help them prepare for meeting new people
Socialising can be difficult for an autistic adult, especially when they’re meeting new people and faces. Autism may affect how well they are able to pick up social cues, especially when they haven’t met the person before and may not understand how to interact with their type of communication or humour.
One way you can help is by introducing the person before hand. This could involve something as simple as showing them photographs of them on your phone, describing a bit about who they are and how you know them. This helps reduce anxiety and gives them something to talk about when they meet.
This of course, is easier for events where you know everyone attending before hand. However, there are often situations where you may not. In this case, ask them if they would like to stay with you during the event. You can even discuss beforehand what they would like you to do if you notice them become distressed. This could be something as simple as getting some fresh air, finding a quiet space or excusing them from a conversation. This comes back to the first point; asking someone how they prefer to handle difficult situations can be the best way to provide the support they need.
5. Be patient and enjoy!
At Christmas, things don’t always go to schedule and unexpected changes or problems are sometimes unavoidable. Be aware that your friend, family member or child may not react well to this and provide them with the understanding and patience you would hope for if you were struggling.
Enjoy yourselves! Everyone is different and it can be exhausting for anyone. Remember to take some time out and relax and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
Have a lovely Christmas from Stack Recruitment!
This week I had the pleasure to speak to Tyla from Adulting with Autism. She shared her motivations behind starting a blog and her experiences finding work as an autistic female. Huge thanks to Tyla for sharing!
1) What inspired you to start your adulting with autism blog?
“When I was getting ready to leave university there wasn’t much help or support affordable and available for someone like who was going on to live a fully independent life. A lot of my peers were moving back home or had a job lined up and for many reasons I had neither but also couldn’t find any information that was tailored for autistic people on how to tackle such a big change and get yourself up to adult ‘right’.”
2) How would you like your blog to help other autistic people that are becoming adults?
“The blog is a mix or personal anecdotes documenting my mess ups and tips but mainly just following my journey into / through adulthood. So I like to think it’ll help others feel less helpless and alone. There are plans for the future where I’ll hold more practical adulting skills workshops.”
3) What do you think the preconceptions of autistic people are and how would you say they are different?
“Preconceptions are just that it’s a social disability and you’ve difficulty making friends when it goes beyond that. The comorbid conditions, isolation from then world around us and just generally not being on the same page as everyone else is tiring. It’s a draining, a simple catch up with friends can have your head in a spin if more than one person talks at once. Emails worded to be polite when really theres an urgency mean we get in trouble at work like autism doesn’t present itself the same way in every person but on the hole, we’re sound people who are often misunderstood.”
4) What do you think is most difficult about being an autistic adult?
“At the minute for me dating and relationships, by time I’ve finished with work, made sure my house is in order and tied up all the important loose ends I find I don’t have the capacity to deal with meeting new people and then when I do getting them to understand they have to communicate with me differently and that what I say is what I mean is hard. So many times lads say to me “oh I’ll take the hint” and I’m there searching for the hint because to me there wasn’t one! Haha.”
5) What do you is most difficult about being autistic and finding a meaningful job?
“I thinking what constitutes as meaningful job is different to everyone, some people need their job to define them I just need to be happy in my workplace and not be stressed out over stimulated by the work. So my job as a Data Analyst plays well to my autistic traits of pattern spotting and ability to do repetitive tasks and hyper focus but beyond that, it doesn’t reflect me as a person. I like to think I’m creative and my ideal role would be to put my interest in social media to use and consult small to medium sized business and educate them on how best to use social media for their company. My main difficulty in doing that is right now I don’t have the skills to be a freelancer or the experience to work for someone else which I’m sure is the case for many people.”
6) What advice would you give to others searching for work?
“Rejection is redirection. And don’t hold back from applying for a role, even if you think you’re not good enough let them (the employer) decide. Who are you to decide really you don’t have enough information to make that call, you could be the most qualified person who puts there name forward so just do it!”
7) What advice would you give to employers looking to hire autistic employees?
“If I’m honest I’d really question why you want an autistic person specifically and if it’s based on any stereotypes about the way we work then make sure you ask in the interview how the person works and likes to be managed. Also set your boundaries and make things clear, it’s better to tell them they need to be in at 9am than mark down they’ve been late 3 times and ask why because you hoped it’d sort itself out. “