Christmas can be a challenging time of year if you’re autistic: streets and shops get noisier and bright fairy lights can cause sensory issues for some. It's also likely that you will get invited to one or more Christmas parties or family get togethers which can be stressful for those who find social interactions mentally draining.
Christmas is a time for rest so it's important to take time to look after yourself as well as those you care about. Over the years I have worked on coping with the demands of the Christmas season and hope that my tips help other young autistic people this Christmas.
Find time for your hobbies
One of my favourite things about Christmas is the break from my normal work routine. The typically miserable weather and crowded shopping streets provide a great excuse for staying at home and relaxing. I like to take advantage of the extra free time by letting myself indulge in my special interests (specifically writing and watching television) and other hobbies such as going on walks and craft projects. Christmas is a great time of year to unwind and “decompress” after a few months of work or a school or university term. Think of it as a present to yourself after a busy year.
Don’t overdo it
While having extra free time can mean more time to do the things you enjoy, it can also mean that people expect you to take part in more social activities, some of which may be outside of your routine and potentially your comfort zone. Christmas is a season filled with social events, from work and school parties to family gatherings to days out with friends. For some autistic people, including myself, taking part in so many social events can be very draining.
It's important to be kind to yourself at Christmas. Be aware of your limits: most people get a little weary of attending events at Christmas so people will understand if you don't attend every party or event you're invited to. It's better to attend a few events and enjoy yourself than to overdo it and burn out. Try to find time alone to unwind and remember that no one will think worse of you if you decide to give an event a miss: there will always be other times to meet up with friends and colleagues.
Take time to reflect
Another thing I enjoy doing with my extra spare time at Christmas is taking time to reflect on my year. I keep a high level diary with pages for each season and I like to look at this and remind myself of how I've spent my year. Even if you don't keep a diary, it can be useful to write down some of the key things you have done during the last year. I think about what went well, what could have gone better, what I have achieved and what I have forgotten to do. I don't go as far as to set myself new year's resolutions because I never keep them but just taking stock of how far you have progressed in a year, whether socially, at work or in another area of your life, can encourage you and help to motivate you for the year ahead. Take a few minutes out this Christmas to recognise and congratulate yourself on your achievements.
Christmas is a great time of year for so many reasons. Whether you're a fan of the time spent with family, good food or festive entertainment, there's usually an aspect of the Christmas holidays that appeals to everyone. Even if other parts of the Christmas season cause you to worry or make you anxious, try not to dwell on the negatives and focus on those things you enjoy. Christmas is a season of charity and kindness, so remember to be kind to and understanding with yourself as well as those you love.