Celebrations with family and friends are an important part of life – sharing joy and taking a break from our day to day lives. Sometimes it is easy to forget that what neuro-typical people find enjoyable can be a source of stress and anxiety for someone who relies on the everyday structure to understand the world around them.
A lot of how we celebrate can be steeped in family and community traditions, some of which we cannot explain to others, it is ‘just the way we always do it”.
Celebrations bring a vast number of changes to routines and expectations. Our homes, offices and schools are suddenly decorated; our daily routine is now punctuated with events, performances, parties and visitors – some planned and some spontaneous – and everyone is expected to be happy with all this disruption as it is a time for celebration.
So, if the holiday season and celebrations are leading to stress for the autistic person in your life, think about how you can make it a restful, celebratory time for everyone. Here are five tips for valuing autism during the holidays:
· Plan ahead and avoid surprises. Actively discourage those who drop by unannounced if the doorbell is a source of stress. Explain to friends and family that your attendance at gatherings may be reduced, or non-existent, depending on anxiety levels. Those who truly value you will understand.
· Ensure one area in each key location is the same as always – no decorations, no festive music etc. – a safe place to spend time if feeling overwhelmed.
· Take a graduated approach if required – if you like to have a lot of decorations, then add them slowly as the festive season progresses and make sure everyone has a role in decorating so that there are no surprises.
· We are expected to enjoy presents, but gift-giving (and receiving) requires us to understand a large number of social etiquettes. We are expected to enjoy surprise gifts and the anticipation of not knowing what someone has bought for us, but for those dealing with anxiety it may be more than they can manage. Consider using see –through or opaque wrapping that allows peeking, or even no wrapping at all.
· Celebrate in your own way. Make some new traditions, find new ways to relax and spend time with loved ones. Make new memories to treasure.