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!