We know the holiday season can be very stressful and overwhelming for our community, so we’ve asked the experts on the topic (autistic people) for their top tips for both autistic people, and friends and families of autistic people.
Here’s what they had to say:
Top tips: pick an ‘ally’ to advocate on your behalf and families and friends, please don’t expect specific reactions from us.
For autistic people…
Holidays and gatherings are always overwhelming and tiring, so giving yourself permission to do whatever it is you need to do to feel comfortable is really important.
Something I do is: pick an ‘ally’!
Something you should do: Don’t expect certain ‘reactions’ from us.
Top tips: space out your social engagements and remember the holidays are meant to be fun, and that looks different for everyone.
Holiday season brings up complicated feelings for me, of grief, trauma, and joy. It’s hard to navigate, and it’s hard to distance myself from it given all the social engagements and parties that I do want to go to, but find quite exhausting sometimes.
As a tip to navigate these feelings, I usually bring a safe person with me, or go to parties where my safe people are also invited. I also try to remember that holidays are meant to be fun, and fun can look different for people. I also carry my noise-cancelling earphones everywhere so I can control sensory overloads.
I also space out my social engagements, and fill the time in between big social events with painting, reading or organising my stationery – I call it spoon replenishment! Personal shame? I love the Netflix Christmas cinematic universe – it is my one true solace from the chaotic pressure of the holiday season.
Top tips: Friends and families, please provide the option to opt-out of events and don’t restrict access to comfort/safe foods.
This may seem obvious, but Autistic people are NOT any less Autistic during the holiday season. We cannot flick a switch and become neurotypical while the relatives invade our safe space. Just like every other day, Autistic people will need regular breaks from the hustle and bustle of holiday gatherings. It is important to encourage alone time breaks rather than unintentionally shaming them for being rude or antisocial on the special day.
Provide the Autistic person in your life with an opt-in / opt-out choice around all aspects of holiday activities and gatherings. It may be the best time of the year for some, but for Autistic people the holiday season is full of stress and changes in routine. Given the heightened changes and stressors Autistic people can be more prone to meltdowns, shutdowns, and burnout.
Ask your family and friends not to expect or force hugs, kisses, photos, or interaction. And don’t restrict the usual comfort foods for sensory triggering festive foods. Enable the things that you know allows the Autistic person in your life to thrive and enjoy the holiday season. And advocate for them when you can see boundaries are being crossed.
Top tips: take time for self-care and don’t be afraid to self-advocate!
My advice as an autistic young adult for surviving the upcoming holidays is to take care of yourself no matter what anyone else says. If that means taking time out in a quiet space away from people or ignoring everyone then do it, or if that means using things like noise cancelling headphones or fidget toys then do it, but don’t be apologetic about taking care of yourself as you are the most important thing.
I find people can get so wrapped in the holidays and forget that they need to adapt traditions or arrangements to suit everyone and not just the typical majority.
Another bit of advice is to speak up and advocate for yourself! I always discover myself having to be my strongest advocate during the holiday season as I my needs aren’t asked about at all or they do ask me and become completely forgotten or lost in the hustle and bustle of the period.