Christmas for Autistic Adults: What is it really like?

Three weeks ago my husband received a detailed written report which stated clearly that he was indeed autistic. Of course he always has been autistic but as this is his first ‘official’ Christmas as an autistic adult I thought I would dedicate this special blog to the millions of autistic adults who inspire me, encourage me and motivate me to do the best and believe for the best for my two autistic children always.

I have to be honest and say both my children struggle with Christmas and I wondered if that got easier as a adult.

I asked Lisa how she manages Christmas both as an autistic adult and a parent of two children with autism.

I love Christmas and spending precious time with family. Family that I’m comfortable with. I love the events we have over Christmas but at the same time seeing people I have not seen in a while can fill me with anxiety.

It’s like I try so hard, too hard for it to be perfect. And that’s when my obsessive behaviour kicks in. I have to have everything looking just right. I want to attend so many sensory related events with my close family, the ones I’m comfortable with. When they don’t share my enthusiasm it brings me down.

I like to have set people around me and if they aren’t, it makes me anxious.

So as much as I love Christmas and everything that goes with it, i am often accused of trying ‘too hard’. Trying too hard to organise everyone, and pleasing everyone. I build myself up and sometimes I get overloaded with it all.

Social expectations and anxiety was something Chris from (http://autisticnotweird.com) also touched on too:

As much as I love Christmas Day (and speaking as a practising Christian too), it’s surprising how little I love Christmastime. The day itself is usually wonderful, but it’s preceded by a boatload of expectations- some of which you can’t match, some of which are unclear.

Worst of all is the expectation that everyone MUST be happy in the run-up to Christmas – including those with mental health issues. And not only that, but you must express that happiness in very specific ways. (Even on the day itself, it’s a time when getting drunk at midday is seen as acceptable but if you check Facebook to see your friends enjoying themselves, you’re being “antisocial”.) And having to do a hundred things “because it’s Christmas” has never struck me as a good reason to make yourself stressed- honestly, I’d rather celebrate Christmas in a way that helps me to access the beauty of the season rather than the social expectations. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus wants too.

Social events can be a struggle for many with autism at any time of year but the extra pressure of so many events can be overwhelming even as an adult. I love how Nikki from http://www.spectrumgirls2.com describes the after effect of so much socialisation as a ‘social hangover’ as this is something I see in my own kids regularly.

I do love Christmas, I think it’s magical and it reminds me of fond memories when family all got together when I was a child. I must admit I do get very overwhelmed with it all as there’s a lot of preparation required on top of being a very busy parent carer.

I find the shops so busy this time of year, music, crowds, lights and I try and avoid taking my girls into crowded shops as many people don’t realise I’m having my own sensory overload as well as trying to cope with both my girls getting overloaded. I do a lot of online shopping. With events like Christmas fairs, nativities, meals, I will cope during the event but will feel emotionally drained afterwards, I often need to go and lie in a dark room and find it difficult to talk after busy events. I’ve heard this being described as almost like a ‘social hangover’ amongst adults on the autistic spectrum. I do a lot of avoiding if I find something quite heavy going, I’m not keen on the wrapping of presents so I do put it off a lot! One of the more unusual feelings I get every Christmas time is a slight depressed feeling of ‘fear of missing out’ which is something that I’ve only just recently found out about. It’s a feeling that my children are missing out on experiences such as visiting Santa, etc but then I have to take a step back and think that experiences like this are not always positive due to my youngest having a fear of Santa, we have to do what is in their best interest.

Helen from http://www.lifeandasc.com echoed some of those same thoughts:

I love Christmas but in small measured social doses (I prefer to limit social events to 1 or 2 over Christmas). I have a set routine for Christmas . In fact the way we decorate the tree and the meal I cook is the same since I was about 10. The hardest thing for me is present giving – I am bad at keep a surprise or waiting till Christmas to open things. For me the greatest thing about Christmas is the ability to stay at home without having to do much – as I tend to use it as complete downtime.

Surprise presents was something Nigel struggles with too:

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. I find it stressful, it’s hard to do the weekly grocery shop when everything has moved around. The whole pressure to socialise, shops being busy, roads full of traffic and the same old songs every year! I’m glad when it’s all over. I much prefer people to give me vouchers or money so I can buy what Iwant when Iwant it and not have to pretend what they have chosen is anything I even like!

I went on to ask Lee if he had any coping strategies that worked well for him:

Ear plugs/defenders, regular breaks to a quite area that others know are out of bounds (safe area/place) try and know structure of the day in advance like a timetable and also knowing who’s coming.

Which leads me nicely to the hope that Matt had for me:

As an adult I find christmas not to much of a problem to be honest, it makes a good excuse to drink and throw money up the wall lol. When I was younger it was a totally different storey though…

I hated the change of routine, things happening on different days, people turning up, tv programmes being cancelled,being so excited about the presents I was getting and staying up all night being sick and then being sick again when I didn’t get what I wanted and working out there was no such thing as Father Christmas and then feeling compelled to tell every other child I saw!

As I expected some autistic adults actually look forward to Christmas and I really hope that one day what Riko from http://www.dragonriko.wordpress.com thinks will be true for my children too.

I love Christmas and having loads of decorations, loads of presents, going shopping, going to parties and having people around.

As I debate whether to put a Christmas tree up or whether this change will once again be too much for my children I am filled with hope that while they will always have autism they may actually one day love putting their own tree up for themselves.

Thank you to all the autistic adults who not only helped me write this but give me hope daily. I hope by sharing your personal perspectives it helps more people understand and accept you all and makes the world a little more tolerant both for you all and for my children too.

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