Christmas Time with Autism

Christmas is one of my favourite days of the year.  

I have a wife and two children so we get into the Christmas spirit early by putting up the tree and decorations at the beginning of December.  Then, on Christmas Eve, we always watch a Christmas movie together like Home Alone.  Whilst eating pizza and having some nice cold drinks, and maybe a lovely desert afterwards.

Christmas day starts with us opening lots of presents, having a nice breakfast, then an amazing Christmas dinner whilst spending time with the rest of our family.

But it’s not all easy and fun when your autistic/Aspie around Christmas time.  So here are some of the issues and difficulties we might face.

Change of Routine

Being autistic/Aspie means we need routines.  It has now been scientifically proven how important routines are for us.  Christmas time involves a very different routine.  If we always do the same each year, and have got a proper schedule in place, it can be quite easy to get through.  But if it’s unpredictable and/or new it can be a recipe for disaster. 

I’ve certainly had Christmas days that have not gone to plan.  Even in my early 20s. Such as when my wife and I had our first Christmas together, and my routine was massively changed.  I tried to do too much by spending time with my family and her family.  Which was far too much change and too much pressure.  I ended up having a meltdown and was in floods of tears, anger and frustration. 

I was late for my wife’s Christmas dinner where a large number of family members were waiting for me.  They even put their whole Christmas dinner on hold until I arrived.  I turned up with streams of tears in front of my new family and was very emotionally unstable and apologetic.  Fortunately they were very kind and understanding, and I calmed down quite quickly.  Then we all enjoyed the rest of Christmas, and it was forgotten about.

After this I had no choice but to put a strict routine to follow every Christmas since.  Which I decided that my wife (then partner) was the most important part of Christmas, so I’d spend all day with her and do whatever she was doing.  Then we’d fit my family in where we could.

Now I have two children and they like routines and like knowing what to expect.  So I explain in detail, and step by step, the full routine of what is going to happen on Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Boxing day.  I usually do this a few times leading up to Christmas.  Which I find is very beneficial to me, and I know helps them a great deal too.  We all know what we’re doing and what to expect and the Christmas period tends to run smoothly.

Christmas Presents

It’s really nice to receive presents and I love opening them (if the wrapping is very easy to tear).  I am also incredibly grateful for the gifts I receive.  But being autistic/Aspie means we find it difficult to show that emotion correctly.  We feel happy, but might not express this.  We feel thankful, and say so, but the words might come out a bit flat and without the usual expected enthusiasm.  Or we might try to compensate for this but sounding unrealistically overly cheerful.

Receiving gifts we’re not keen on can be tough too.  It doesn’t usually happen with me now, but as a child I received gifts such as acrylic jumpers that I knew I could never wear due to them being too itchy.  It is very hard for an autistic/Aspie to hide our feelings but I always try my best to look grateful.  

I find that Christmas is easier when we can choose our own gifts in advance, so we know what to expect.  I do like an occasional surprise but it’s hard to show the right emotions and expressions when receiving an unexpected present. 

Social Interaction

Social interaction can be the hardest part about the Christmas and New Year’s period.  Where you often only see people once a year and may have to interact with people for the first time.  As social interaction is so difficult for me I often go into a silent mode, and can only talk to people if they talk to me.  Luckily most of my family now know I’m autistic/Aspie and understand that I struggle socially.  So it’s easier to just be myself rather than having an internal fight of trying to be more sociable.  I do still think that it’s worth trying to engage in some conversations wherever possible though, as family relationships are so important.

I have heavily relied on gadgets over the years to avoid that awkward social interaction and boredom.  When I was a teenager it was my Gameboy that helped me get through it all.  As an adult it tends to be my Kindle or mobile phone.

Food

Many of us love Christmas dinner and it is the highlight of the year, alongside Thanksgiving in the US.  But some autistic/Aspies have issues around food.  Meaning what is enjoyable for us, might be extremely displeasurable for others.  When it is a child that struggles to enjoy the food it can often cause the parents to be incredibly frustrated and upset.  Some truly cannot contemplate how their child cannot enjoy food that is so nice.  They will often take the view that if they force the child they will eventually like it, which may or may not work.  Or on the other side, give the child what they like such as very plain food.  I believe a balance is the best way by kindly, patiently and gently encouraging your young ones to try a small amount of one to two new types of food, whilst giving them mostly the meal that they enjoy.  This should eventually increase the amount of food that is acceptable to them, and give them a varied diet, whilst not causing too much upset at such a special time as the Christmas dinner.

Work’s Christmas Parties

Before I knew I was autistic/Aspie I found work Christmas Parties too difficult to attend.  I used to get on with most people I worked with, but socialising was incredibly draining and difficult enough at work, so choosing to do this in my own time was an ask too far.  I did try once or twice to compromise and just go for one drink, but I even found this far too tough so have avoided Christmas parties since.  I used to make up every excuse under the sun, such as childcare issues etc but now I tend be blunt and honest and say that I struggle with Christmas parties so do not want to attend.  I am not saying I’d never do it, as I might just about be able to handle going out for a meal, even though I find eating with people to be difficult.  But building up these positive relationships does provide many advantages by increasing our own self esteem as well as having better work lives.

Christmas is such an amazing event and can often be the thing that gets us through the difficult wintertime.  It can have some additional difficulties, due to being autistic/Aspie, but with proper planning and slight compromises it can be extremely enjoyable for us and our families.

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