The holidays are a stressful time for everyone. You have to scramble to do everything on time and in the right way while also being kind and keeping the “holiday spirit” alive. You have to budget Christmas presents and make extravagant meals- I mean really the list goes on. Holiday responsibilities never really seem to end. Plus, when you add family into the mix, it can get really problematic for some people. Not everyone has the luxury of having a family that you can get along with or even one that loves you.
Everything that you feel during the Christmas season- the stress and anxiety, the responsibility, the excitement, the reluctance to contend with family- can often times be multiplied by a lot for people who are autistic. I’ve noticed a lot of parents in the autistic community talking about their kids having extra meltdowns around Christmas time, and I myself seem to be having extra meltdowns and extra burnout lately too. So I’m going to shed some light on the subject.
A lot of kids with autism have sensory overload. This is pretty self explanatory- it’s when there’s to much sensory input and it causes a person to become overwhelmed. Sensory overload can cause meltdowns, panic attacks, depressive episodes, and other physical and mental expressions of the feeling of being overwhelmed. This is often extremely exaggerated around this time of year for people like me. There is extra light, extra noise, and there are extra people wherever you go. Everyone won’t stop talking about this one holiday, and no one focuses on much of anything else. When Christmas Day rolls around, you have all of these presents waiting for you that you are excited about, and sometimes it’s too much.
Being high functioning can actually sometimes add to the stress of Christmas because you have to put extra effort into masking. Not only do you have to visit your family, you have to smile and be nice and not stim too hard. Not only do you have too many gifts to be excited about, you have to have just the right reaction to them or you might hurt someone’s feelings or make them think you’re weird. Not only do you have three times the light, sound, and human beings to deal with, you still have to pretend you aren’t about to cry every time you step into a Walmart.
People who are autistic need extra accommodations during the holidays. We have to put extra effort into accommodations- for ourselves as autistic people and our autistic kids as parents of autistic people- during this part of the year. If your kid wants to buy gifts for someone and cannot handle being in a store, teach them about online shopping. If your child hates Christmas lights, make the sacrifice and don’t put lights up on the house. If your child cannot handle having all these presents on Christmas, put them under the tree gradually and hand them out over the course of a few days. If your kid cannot handle socialization with your family and friends, talk to your family and friends about your child’s needs, and keep the socialization at minimum to none. If you are not a child and you are autistic, do these things for yourself. That’s something I’ve been working on.
I’ve said this so many times and I’ll say it again: autism is not bad. It does not need to be changed.
So when autistic people have an incredibly hard time handling this time of year, don’t try to change their behavior, try to change their environment. Every person deserves to feel safe and comfortable. Just because someone’s needs are different and more challenging, it doesn’t mean those needs shouldn’t still be met.