It is now the middle of autumn, the weather is getting colder, the days shorter and winter is on the way. It used to be a joy to be outdoors: camping, walking, cycling, paddling pools with the children and barbecues but now it is a chore and something I avoid where possible. Instead of the warmth and comfort of the sun there is the bitterness of the dark cold days.
It really is a difficult time for me, I know that it is hard for everyone but I find it exceptionally hard, depressing and tough. I truly believe I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I looked into this a long time ago and seem to have all the symptoms for the milder version of this type of depression. I considered buying a special light box to help me through the winter a few years ago but as I am so sensitive to bright light I decided against the idea.
I have conducted some brief research to see if there is a link between SAD (also known as the winter blues) and autism and although there is not enough scientific research or evidence to even suggest there may be; there are some articles and blog posts suggesting that many people with autism suffer from SAD such as Cooke & Thompson (1998), Autism Society (2015), Robinson (2009) and Adult Apergers Chat (2013). It would be interesting to see in the future if there will be more studies in this area similar to the research that shows that people who are autistic are more vulnerable to suffering depression.
Whether you are autistic and suffer from SAD or not I am sure the winter will affect you in some positive and negative ways. Below I have listed the things that help me get through the difficult winter period.
- Wearing the correct clothing, which is obvious but sometimes overlooked. This is essential and can be the difference between being warm, dry and comfortable to cold, wet and miserable. There is plenty of guidance about this on the internet but in short it is better to wear layers of clothing such as a base layer like a t-shirt (not cotton as it traps sweat which makes you colder), a mid layer like a jumper or a fleece and an outer layer which is waterproof. In really cold weather a hat and gloves also help to keep warm and comfortable. In winter man made materials are usually better than natural (apart from wool which is one of the few materials that can keep you warm even when wet). Unfortunately due to my skin sensitivity I am limited on the materials I can wear so cannot buy wool or acrylic clothing.
- Drive much more often instead of walking to places like the shop.
- I motivate myself by thinking positively and remembering that other people have got it much worse than I have. Many other countries have longer and colder winters. Some countries do not have four seasons and miss out on beauty of the change of seasons. Many people who leave countries like England and live in warmer countries see this as one of the things they miss the most as shown in Telegraph (2015) and Frei (2014).
- I try to appreciate the few positives of winter time such as the beauty of nature through the changes of seasons such as autumnal or snowy woodlands. I also love Christmas and looking forward to it gives me the boost I need to get through the first part of winter.
- Focussing on future positives such as: a booked holiday, thinking that once the shortest day is past each day will get longer, counting down the months until it is over and spring will return.
- Wherever possible I get as much sun on my skin as possible in the autumn months as I know it helps me to keep my vitamin D levels up and even a bit of sunlight on my skin helps me to feel much happier.
- I will wear sunglasses on bright days, as the sun is lower which can cause sensory overload and headaches, and when it has been snowing to stop the bright light entering my eyes.
- Due to having high functioning autism and often not enjoying socialising the winter gives me the benefit of spending more time indoors with my wife and sons and less time having to socialise. It is really nice to be warm and cosy indoors when it is cold outside. Spending time with family eating hot meals such as Irish stew and dumplings and drinking hot drinks such as hot chocolate and marshmallows (which my son says “warms his engines”).
- Adult Aspergers Chat (2013) http://www.adultaspergerschat.com/2013/11/the-winter-blues-tips-for-adults-on.html
- Autism Society (2015) http://www.autism-society.org/in-the-news/ask-expert-curing-winter-blues-tips-adults-spectrum/
- Cooke ,L.B. & Thompson, C. (1998) ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder and Response to Light in Two Patients with Learning Disability’, Journal of Affective Disorders 48: 145–8
- Light in Two Patients with Learning Disability’, Journal of Affective Disorders 48: 145–8.
- Frei (2014) http://freisdays.com/2014/10/18/missing-four-seasons-not-only-a-weather-thing/
- Robinson (2009) http://aroundtheautismspectrum.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/winter-blues.html
- Telegraph (2015) http://my.telegraph.co.uk/expat/annabelkantaria/10144661/why-do-dubai%E2%80%99s-expats-return-to-england/