It’s that time of year where everyone is in the Christmas spirit. There’s many autistic people who love the holidays but find it really hard to navigate through it because there’s not enough accommodations in place and too much high expectations placed on us by neurotypical people.
Here’s some things to remember that will help autistic people during the holidays. Keep our sensory needs in mind. Sensory overload is a very real thing autistic people struggle with. We may choose to hide away in a room to decrease the amount of sensory input if we feel overstimulated. Trying to read all the social cues and trying to keep up with all the back and fourth conversations and everyone touching us is a lot for our brains to process. Try to keep noise levels down if the autistic person has auditory sensitivities. If the autistic person is sensitive to bright lights, try to keep the lights dim and close all curtains that have bright sunlight beaming through. If the autistic person is sensitive to touch, please make sure to ask before giving hugs or making any kind of physical contact. That should go without saying but I figured I’d say it anyway. Consent is everything and you should respect any boundaries we set in place.
Another thing to keep in mind is our routine that we may have. The holidays doesn’t change our routine so if we run off to do whatever it is that needs to get done, please don’t make a big deal about it. Sticking to routine helps the day go by smoothly.
Also, try to remember that we have special interests we may like to info dump about. Please don’t make us feel like we’re killing the holiday spirit if we choose to info dump. For me personally, it’s so much easier to connect and have conversations with people when it revolves around my special interests. If you want us to engage with you, go at our pace.
I also have a suggestion that may help autistic children who don’t seem interested in opening up Christmas gifts as parents expect them to. Try to make it more appealing for them. Maybe they need a more detailed visual which means maybe you shouldn’t have the gifts wrapped. I know many people want to stick to the traditions of wrapping it but it’s only fair to be accommodating to the ones who need it. If you insist on wrapping, maybe try wrapping it in clear cellophane so they can still see what it is and they might be more interested in opening it up. Also, try to gauge what their special interests are and get gifts that are related to that. Also, please don’t pressure them. Pressure can trigger a meltdown or shutdown. Be more understanding and have more compassion.
One important point I want to bring up is for a lot of autistic people, it’s very hard for us to identify our own emotions and some of us have a hard time seeing the first signs of sensory overload. It’s also sometimes hard for us to verbalize our needs even when we know what it is because speaking can also be overstimulating, so we may shut down.
If you plan on inviting an autistic person to your house for the holidays, I feel it’s a good idea to ask them what their food preferences are so they don’t feel left out when everyone is eating but it happens to be a food they’re sensitive to. This ties into our sensory needs.
I really hope these tips will help a lot of you out there to accommodate autistic people this holiday season. Please be patient and understanding and most importantly, please be inclusive. Don’t choose to not include or invite us just because you think we may be too needy. We deserve acceptance! We don’t want to be ignored, we just want to be accommodated.