Now before I am accused of being all bah humbug and putting a damper on your festive let me quickly say that is not my intention.
I generally love our family life with autism but as always simply want to raise awareness of how autistic people and families can experience Christmas.
The loss of routine and the sensory bombardment of the many distinctive and unique elements of the festive can prove problematic for autistic people. Lights, decorations, loud music, crowds, social events, fancy food, unfamiliar faces, changes to television listings, homes overloaded with new and strange presents, waiting for taxis, loud fireworks, awkward questions from seldom seen relatives , new social demands -this list of potential problems is not exhaustive. For some autistic people however the whole heady mix can leave them on a knife edge of fight or flight leading to missing out on events and disruption and unhappiness for families.
So what can we do to provide a more autism friendly Christmas experience?
Well in general we try to celebrate but also keep things as normal as possible.
If you have guests by all means look after them but this does not mean it is impossible to provide familiar foods at the usual times for an autistic person.
We also try to always have an alternative from any problematic stimuli or situations.
In a relatives home that could be a bedroom or quiet space being available to seek calming refuge in. Runs in the car also help but obviously require the driver to avoid wine with a meal. We try not to stop Andy being exposed to things he might like ( and he has often surprised us) but always on his own terms and with a safe option to avoid anything troubling.
The unpredictability of autism can make planning and organisation difficult. A degree of flexibility around times for meals or visiting is helpful and an understanding that if an autism family has to cancel at short notice this is not as ignorant as it may initially seem.
Andy’s reactions to receiving gifts used to embarrass us but now we explain that it often takes him time to assimilate an new object and the expected social response is just not in his makeup. It does not mean he is unappreciative of the kindness offered to him.
Most people want to enjoy the happiness and fun of Christmas and autistic people are no different in that respect.
With a little thought, preparation, flexibility and understanding this is entirely possible and can make the season of goodwill extend across neurodiversity.