Tag Archives: Christmas

The transition in to January: Why it can be so hard and what can help with it.

I have written quite a bit about how hard Christmas and New Year can be for autistic people, but it’s also worth saying how hard January can be. December is full of change and we all know how hard that can be, but by the time you have started to get used to it, it all changes back again. What you eat, what time you go to bed, your routine, the decorations everything goes back to normal pretty quickly. Because it’s going back to normal it might not seem like as big a change, but it is, and it can in fact be even worse. At least with Christmas you get time off or nice food – the change might be hard, but for a lot of people it at least comes with positives. But January is an almost universally hated month to begin with; nothing much happens in it for most people, the fun of the holidays is over, and everything changes back to normal within a day or two.

For autistic people there is also the fact that January can be spent dealing with the build-up of sensory overload that can come with Christmas. It’s not uncommon for a meltdown to occur days, or even weeks after the event that trigged it. There have been times where I have become overloaded due to going out, but have seemed to be doing quite well for three or four days after only to have a meltdown the next week. In December you have a month full of change and things that can lead to a build-up of overload, and the knock-on effect of that can be felt well in to January.

So when you put those things together you have a month that can be pretty dull and grim anyway, starts with a big change all of its own, and is more than likely still being impacted by the events of December.

What can you do about this?

The first and most important thing is just to be aware of it. That might sound strange or not specific enough, but it is extremely easy to forget all about how hard January can be. December is over and that is the month that draws attention to itself; the changes are very clear, and it’s easy to see what impact they might have. But everything changes back so fast it’s easy to forget how long that impact can last, and also to forget that the change back to normal life is a huge change all on its own. Add that to the fact that the year is literally changing, and you can see why you should be aware of how hard January can be, but also why it often gets forgotten about. Just being aware of the issues that might arise will help. If you’re feeling overloaded or stressed-out remember why that might be, and perhaps be on the look-out for signs of a meltdown, or just keep in mind that just because the year changes the build-up of overload will not go away.

Another idea might be writing down how things will change, and if these changes will be good or bad. This is something worth doing at the start of December too, and it might be that you do it all in one go – talking about how things will change for Christmas and New Year, and how they will change back. Or you might do another chart for January talking about how things will change back, how this makes you feel and what the impact will be, for example less time around the house, different food, and the fact that that might make you feel more stressed or overloaded. (If you want to find out more about our strategies for dealing with transition check out our book on the topic https://www.jkp.com/uk/helping-children-with-autism-spectrum-conditions-through-everyday-transitions.html )

If you can you might also ease yourself back in to things slowly. So plan things out: What day are you taking your decorations down? When are you going to change your diet? Perhaps don’t plan one day to switch everything back, spread it out over the first week or so of the year so that it is not so overwhelming. If you have work or school then you will have a set day you need to be back at that, but perhaps don’t change everything on that date. So you could take you decorations down the day before or the day after so that the change does not happen all at once.

It might also be worth planning a few nice things to do in January. It’s a month most people dislike and it can be made better by having something positive in it. This will not work for everyone as making plans to do things outside the norm can sometimes just create more stress and change. For me a positive plan might be to try and get out for a few walks in the park. So nothing with any real social interaction or travelling, just something to help ease the tension in a house containing two overloaded, autistic people!

It might be that your plans are small and specific like mine, or it might be than having a few bigger plans works for you. Nothing will work for everyone, and everyone is different so just find what works for you and stick with it.

December and January can be hard months – fun at times, but also hard – and one key thing that you have to bear in mind is some, not all but some, of the change you can opt out of. You don’t have any control over school, college being closed, but perhaps if there are shifts on at work you could take them. You can’t stop everyone else putting up Christmas decorations, going out or having a party for New Years, but you don’t have to make a fuss about any of it. You don’t have to change what you eat, what time you go to bed, you don’t have to stay up till midnight, and if you work from home you don’t have to stop working or change your routine over the holidays. I am not suggesting that you don’t get in to the holiday spirit as lots of autistic people (like myself) love doing so even if it comes with some challenges. But what I am saying is that for some people not making those changes, and therefore having less to change back in January, might make this time of year a bit easier. And if that’s the case then my point is that you should do what works best for you regardless of any pressure from family, or society as a whole. That might be more of a tip for the coming December, but I just thought it was worth putting in.

With all that being said I don’t want to sound like I am being wholly negative about this time of year. It can be nice to start a new year and look forward to the year ahead. It’s just that I know from my own experience that it can also be a hard time of year. Hopefully you all had a good Christmas and New Year, and January is not proving to be too difficult for you.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762


Why the frustration of planning for Christmas is worth it for autistic people.

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.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Autism, and the confusion around receiving gifts …

Sometimes being given a gift can be awkward for anyone; they might be given something they don’t like and have to try and pretend that they do like it. But for people with autism even being given something they do like can be awkward: knowing how to react, what to say, how you should look, and things like that is not something that will come naturally to most autistic people. So why can receiving a gift feel awkward? And what can you do about this?

What do you do and say if someone gives you a gift? This might sound like an easy question to some of you – you just say thank you and then open it. But the fact that you are meant to say thank you is one of those unwritten rules that can be so hard for people with autism, and they might just not think so say thanks. This might be even more likely if the gift is not given on their birthday, but is a random gift. They are not in the mindset of being given something, and it will take them by surprise, and saying thank you just might not occur to them. That’s not because they are being rude, it`s just because saying thank you is not something that is automatic to them as it might be to someone who is not autistic. I know that when I was younger often I would not think to say thank you without being prompted, and once someone had pushed me to say it I would often feel embarrassed, and try and get out of saying it.

But even now that I do know to say thank you I still find it hard on Christmas morning to know if I should say thank you after each gift, or just once at the end. Should I say thank you after a big gift, but at the end if its just a few small things? Would it be odd to thank someone after each gift if you are sat next to them and opening the gifts one by one? Or is it rude to not say anything? Does it matter? I genuinely do not know.

I tend to say thank you at the end. I open anything I happen to get and then thank whoever gave it to me once everything is open. But even then I feel unsure. How long should I look at each thing for? I am going to spend a lot of time looking at them in detail later on, but is it OK to just turn something over in your hands once and put it to one side after someone has spent money on it? Even if you plan to look at it later on? Again I am not sure. I tend to do this, but I do not know if it’s the right thing to do or not.

Added to that for me – and I am sure for other autistic people – is the fact that it can be hard at times for people to read my face, and tell how happy or not I might be about whatever they have given to me, and even when I speak my voice may well be flat. I might look up with a blank face and say in a none-too-excited voice that I am very happy with what I have been given. It would be hard to blame someone if they though I was lying about that. Lots of autistic people say that they find it hard to put emotions in their face or voice – that’s not to say they will not be there from time to time, it`s just hard for us to force emotion to be visible.

There is also the fact that once someone has given you something you are no longer in the background; you become the centre of attention for a while as people watch to see how you will react. This in turn makes you think more about how you react, and makes you doubt and second-guess yourself more.

Like everything in life there is an unwritten etiquette to being given gifts, and like all unwritten rules they can be hard for autistic to people to understand. What I tend to do when I am given a gift is to say thank you once I have been given it, and again after I have opened it. If it’s a birthday or Christmas I will open them all then say thank you after that. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, and it`s hard to really ever be able to tell; as with a lot of things you just need to do what you think is right, or what comes naturally to you. Being given a gift is meant to be a fun thing, and whoever is giving it to you most likely would not want to think of you being worried about what you are saying or doing in response.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Post Halloween – why November can be such a difficult month for autistic people.

There has been a blog on this site before which talked about how hard Halloween can be for autistic people, and gave some tips for how to cope with this.  But what I want to talk about today is the weeks following Halloween. It`s easy to think that because the event itself is over that’s the end of it, but the truth is that with autism overloads and meltdowns often don’t kick in until much later. It might be a week or two after Halloween that all the change and sensory input finally catches up to someone. By this time the people around them, and perhaps the autistic person themselves, is no longer thinking about Halloween, and does not make the connection. But it is worth keeping in mind that any overload or meltdowns can be due to the impact of something that happened weeks before.

It’s not so easy for someone with autism to just change their routine overnight, and that’s what Halloween requires a lot of the time. Everything changes for a few days as you eat different food, and people’s houses take on a different look (if they decorate them). And along with this there is all the sensory input from children knocking at the door or running around outside doing trick or treat. You can’t just wake up the next day and be over that.

It might be that you take a few days to ease back in to the normal routine of things.  But this is where it becomes a bit tricky because things don’t quite go back to normal at all. November is a strange month anyway; there is Halloween leading in to it then Bonfire Night, and after that people start the count-down to Christmas. Fireworks go off all the time, and there are a lot more people out and about on the streets. It’s a month where you are meant to just get on with your normal life, and yet the world around you is changed. Everyone starts to talk about Christmas, and it feels as if things are changing all the time. Or at least everyone is getting ready for them to change. As I say fireworks start going off sometime in October, and don’t stop until January. It might be that some people with autism enjoy fireworks, and like going out to see them, but for a lot of autistic people having them going off most nights, and even in the daytime is too much. It`s added sensory input that comes at random times, and can be extremely stressful for autistic people.

It is important to remember that while November is meant to be a normal month, it is far from it. Part of it is spent getting over the impact of Halloween, and all the change/sensory overload that can come with this, and part of it is spent anticipating the change, and stress that can come with Christmas. Even if you do work around these two things it might be worth taking the time to talk about the month of November itself with your autistic loved one, or give it some thought if you are autistic yourself. How do you get around the fact that it is basically a month spent dealing with the events of the month before, and the anticipation of events to come in the month after?

Writing about this and planning might be the key; write down what will be different about November, for example fireworks, and Christmas decorations in shops. Write about what the positives of this change might be, and also the negatives. And try to see the last three months of the year as one big time of change, and sensory stimuli. Don’t look at it as one big time of change, then a break, and then a second change.

Even if you just take one part of November – the fireworks – and think about the impact they can have on autistic people, you can see why it can be such a hard time of year.  Loud noises can be enough to send some autistic people in to melt down, and even if this is not the case the build-up of noise/lights plus the unpredictable nature of them can take its toll. It might be worth investing in some head phones either to play music, or just to block out sound. You might not want to, or be able to keep these on all the time, but if you know fireworks get worse after it goes dark then you could have them to put on at this time.

November is a hard month. Perhaps harder than October or December due to the fact that everyone around you wants you to get on with it as if it were just a normal month. But keep doing whatever works for you on Halloween, or start doing whatever helps you get through Christmas early on. Talking, writing things down, planning, talking about what change will happen, and what it means as well as just being aware that things might be hard can all help. I know myself that even though the last three months of the year can be a lot of fun, they can also be a lot of hard work. Of course everything changes again in January but that is a blog for another time!

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

January Meltdowns …..

Christmas and New Year have been fun, but also quite stressful.  I think however old you get, or however many strategies you put in to place, this time of year will always be difficult if you are autistic.  The amount of change and transition, plus the sensory issues means that Christmas and New Year can`t be anything other than a difficult time.  This doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable as well.

For me, I finished my first semester at university, and then had the change, and transition of Christmas and New Year.  All of these things together meant that my behaviour, and mood was affected quite severely.  I began to have more meltdowns than normal, and these also increased in severity.  I don’t think that this is uncommon at all among autistic people.  In fact, I think you would struggle to find someone who doesn’t get like this after Christmas, or during Christmas.

Early January can actually be the most difficult time because at least during December there are the positives of Christmas and New Year, so the good comes with the bad.  But January can be a pretty miserable month for people anyway – everything goes back to normal.  While this can be a positive thing, it is also not the easiest thing to deal with for anybody, let alone somebody with autism.  From my point of view it is even stranger as I don’t actually start university again until early February.  All my assignments are handed in so it is as if I have transitioned to another stage – it`s kind of a holiday, but not really.  I am not complaining about getting so much time off, it is just a little bit odd as I was just getting used to university, and I am sure that in some way this must have contributed to what`s been going on for me.

December is a strange time of year for people with autism and their families.  It is very positive and there is a lot of fun to be had – I am not trying to take away from this at all – but I also think it is the most difficult time of year.  I have written about why this might be previously, and I am sure everybody reading this will know anyway from personal experience, but for me early January has always been a bit more difficult.  It is harder to find the positive edge in all the changes and transitions that are going on, but it is possible.  It may be the case that some people are excited to get back to their old routine; may be they want to see friends they`ve not seen for a while?  There could be all kinds of positives to the transition back to everyday life, but it can still feel overwhelming.

The other thing to remember is that while meltdowns are not good – and it`s always best to ward them off, or at least resolve them quickly if possible – just because they get worse in January doesn’t mean that they will stay at this level for the rest of the year.  Things pass, and calm down.

In order to make sure things aren’t too much of a problems in December and January it is important to plan far in advance.  I think last year, may be because I am older, or simply because we were so busy, we didn’t put anywhere near as much planning in to Christmas and New Year, and the transition back to everyday life as we normally do.  And my Mum and I have both felt the effect of this.  We created strategies and techniques to make this transition easier, but for some reason we didn’t put them in to place this year.  My Mum was diagnosed with autism in the build-up to Christmas, so obviously this had quite a big impact on her life, and mine.  But one positive to come from this is that going forward in to Christmas and New Year this year, we can look at not only how it might affect me, but how it might affect Mum.  We both obviously struggle with these things.

What I am trying to say in this blog isn’t anything particularly negative; I just think that it`s important to make the point that things such as the stress created by change don’t simply go away as people with autism get older. Strategies and techniques are not things simply to be used in childhood and then left, especially for things like Christmas which only comes around once a year.  There is so much time in-between each event that the techniques and strategies need to begin afresh every time.  Even though we didn’t take our own advice for the Christmas and New Year just gone, hopefully some people reading this will have done, and had a more peaceful Christmas and New Year holiday than we did.  I wrote lots of articles and blogs in the lead-up to Christmas offering advice and tips that we know work – and we will certainly be using them next Christmas and New Year J Paddy-Joe

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Paddy-Joe Moran J

Loneliness among young autistic people, and why this can go un-noticed

Christmas can be an exciting and fun time of year, and yet it can also be a time when depression and suicide rates increase, and people who normally feel lonely or down in their lives can feel even worse.  Being bombarded by constant images of happy people enjoying themselves can`t be easy for somebody who is lonely, and it is loneliness that this blog is about, and how it can sometimes go undetected in younger people.

Why is the problem of loneliness prevalent in autistic people?

Loneliness can affect anybody, but because autistic people can struggle to socialise and communicate anyway, they are more susceptible to it.  It may be that even if the autistic person goes to school or college they find it hard to interact with those around them, and are not included in social groups.  Some autistic people may also find dating and relationships challenging, and so may not be able to get companionship that way.  Having said this a lot of autistic are not lonely, and a lot of lonely people are not autistic.

Why does this sometimes go un-noticed?

The reason for this is probably best illustrated by looking at a scenario such as the one below – take a twenty one year old autistic woman who could go to university, and communicate with people as and when she needs to.  She could have a job, and communicate with people professionally, but may be that is as much as she can do.  Maybe she doesn’t know how to have a laugh, and a joke.  Maybe when she tries to find somebody to talk to about her special interest all she gets is blank looks.  Let’s even suppose that she is invited to nights out or parties – maybe the sheer force of will and energy that it takes her to get up and go in to university or work, and interact with people daily, means that she doesn’t have anything left to go out and socialise.  People may begin to think she is unfriendly, and in the end stop inviting her to things.   It should be stressed that this is not representative of all young, autistic people, but if you can hold it in your mind, it is an example of how somebody can be around people all day, and hold conversations with them, but at the same time still be profoundly lonely.  It might be a cliché, or even the lyric to some cheesy, eighties song, but like many clichés it has a ring of truth to it – sometimes the loneliest place to be is in the middle of a crowd.

What has this got to do with Christmas?

It is a problem that can affect people all year round, and sometimes for their entire lives; a state of isolation in the middle of hordes of people. But at Christmas, when every image you see is of happy groups of people enjoying themselves and socialising, it is little wonder that the feelings can intensify.  Neuro-typical people will probably be going out and socialising a lot more over this time, and many adverts on TV even run with slogans such as `you don’t want to be alone at Christmas`.  Therefore the message that is generally sent out, and drummed in to people is that Christmas is a time to spend with others, and that if you don’t have someone to spend Christmas with there is something wrong with you.  The human mind tends to focus everything inwards, so if there is a problem it is only a matter of time before the person with autism blames them self, and begins to feel there is something wrong with them.  To not be able to find anybody to spend Christmas day with could easily generate feelings of self-hatred – it can be embarrassing, and difficult enough for a person with autism not to be able to find somebody to sit with in a canteen at work or college. As with many other things, there is such a social pressure put on to Christmas that it can make what is already a difficult and complex mix of emotions much worse – sometimes even to the point where it becomes fatal.

(This blog is about raising awareness of the subject of loneliness, and not giving tips on how to deal with it.  However I will post another blog soon that will give tips which may be helpful)

What can people do to help?

The most important thing is to not think that only elderly people can get lonely at Christmas; there may be teenagers who don’t want to spend time with their families, and feel lonely because they have no one to speak to.  People in their twenties, thirties, or any age can feel lonely.  Loneliness, especially over the Christmas period, can be the start of a dark road that can lead to depression, and even suicide.  What society as a whole can do to help is first of all just understand, and realise that it is a genuine issue.  The actual solutions of how to help people to stop feeling lonely are more complex, and difficult to implement.  But if society grasps the concept that people of all ages, genders and races, can have the same sets of feelings, then it would be a big step in the right direction.

The stereo-type of autistic people always wanting to be alone is something that should be out-dated.  A lot of autistic people need to take breaks, where they need to spend time on their own to clear their minds, and there are some people with autism who could happily spend Christmas and even the entire year alone, but this is not all autistic people.  It is hard to face up to other people`s loneliness, and harder still when it is at a time when all you want to do is sit in front of the TV and eat chocolate.  But this blog isn’t even asking people to do anything really, it is simply letting you know – in what I hope is a clear and concise manner- that loneliness is a problem faced by some autistic people, and especially around Christmas time.  If you are involved in the autism community, and can think of anything you can do to help, then you should definitely do it – even if it is something as simple as just talking to somebody.

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762