For most people the idea of getting time off school, work, or college for Christmas is a good thing, and something to look forward to, but for some autistic people that is not the case. Change of any kind can be hard to deal with, and Christmas is a very strange time of year how ever you look at it. It’s a huge change of routine; breaking up for Christmas is in itself a big change as the normal day- to-day routine no longer applies. You are not going to the same place each day, or doing the same things, and that might mean having to put aside a routine you have spent months working on, and getting used to. Added to that is all the other changes that come with this time of year – some bad and some good, but all change. Places look different if they are done up for Christmas, the food you eat will be different, what’s on TV will change, you might have to spend more time with family, and of course there will be the buying and receiving of gifts. It’s worth pointing out that just because you are autistic does not mean you can’t enjoy Christmas, it just means that all the change might lead to things like overload or outbursts related to sensory overload and meltdowns, it definitely has for me in the past.
That can sometimes be the most difficult part of planning for an event like Christmas – balancing the feelings of looking forward to it with the practicalities of having to plan for it. Ways of planning for the changes that come with Christmas are talked about in more detail in some of my other blogs (which I will be posting links to in the coming weeks) but I just wanted to use this blog to talk about how strange/hard it can be sometimes to put them in to place.
It might be that you love Christmas, that it’s your favourite time of year, and you start looking forward to it months in advance. You might love the changes that come with it: time off school, different food, and presents. But that does not mean that all the change of routine won’t lead to overload and outbursts, and yet even if you know that on a practical level thinking about it might still feel like it’s making Christmas more serious and negative than it needs to be. If you have to draw up charts, and sit and talk/plan everything fun, for example holidays, Christmas or going out then it’s easy to grow frustrated, and to feel like doing that is stopping you from being able to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s hard enough sometimes to have to plan for things you don’t want to do, but having to remind yourself that even fun things can come at a cost can be even harder. But that being said it’s worth keeping in mind that however hard it might be, or however frustrated you feel at having to plan and prepare again, anything that helps prevent outbursts or meltdowns ahead of time is worth persisting with. It might be that you find yourself at a point where you have to make decisions about what you do over Christmas based on past experience, and that might lead to you cutting out things you enjoy. For example you might like the idea of staying up late, but realise that in the past if you didn’t stick to your bedtime routine you tended to have outbursts and be left feeling worse. So you might have to make the call of not doing something you enjoy in order to try and prevent overload and outbursts. Again this might not feel good, and you might end up resenting having to do that, but it’s worth recalling how bad overload and the aftermath of an outburst/meltdown feel. Having to face up to your own limitations is never an easy thing to do, but I have found that at times it is necessary. After all, even though that might sound like quite a serious thing it’s really just about trying to make sure you have a good time, and not doing things that are going to bring you down in the long run.
The other side of this are people who hate Christmas and the holidays, and just try their best to stick to their normal lives, and not get drawn in to it. That’s fine to a point, but it can also be hard to do. If you work you might be able to work over Christmas, but if you are at school/college you will have time off whether you want it or not. You might not decorate your house for Christmas, but you won’t be able to stop everywhere else looking festive; in short you can only block it out and stick to your normal routine up to a point. So even if you don’t want to engage with Christmas, and plan not to think about it too much you might still find that if you don’t plan for it then it will leave you overloaded. Just because you don’t want to be part of a change does not mean you can stop change happening, so it would be worth planning for it anyway – perhaps it would be worth drawing up a chart looking at how things will change, and when they will start to change back. Working out in advance anything you might be doing in terms of going out, and thinking about how where you are going might be different than it normally is, and how this might impact on you.
Whether you enjoy Christmas or not there are two things that can not be denied: one, Christmas is a big change from our normal lives and routines, and two, despite how fun it can be it can also be a very overwhelming time for autistic people. That’s why it’s always worth taking the time to plan for. There are numerous reasons why you might not want to sit down and plan for Christmas, be it that you are worried about taking the joy out of it or that you would rather just ignore it, but in the end it is always best to be prepared, and to try and head-off overloads and meltdowns before they happen. Taking the time to plan and prepare might not make everything perfect, and prevent all overloads or outbursts, but it will go some way to making Christmas time that little bit easier.
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