Supporting autistic people at Christmas

The season is upon us! Autistic people all have different needs and preferences so these may not apply to your family, but here are some general ideas on how to support your favourite autistic people through the festive period. (Please note, I have only a little knowledge of other festivals this time of year so I don’t know whether these tips will be relevant or not).

Don’t make us go shopping

Shopping can be tough at the best of times. Shops are deliberately designed to be confusing, so that you spend longer trying to find what you need and therefore end up spending money on things that you spot and didn’t need. I mean, look at clothes shops. Why can’t they put all the t shirts in one place? Because they also want you to look at the jumpers, the jeans, the shirts and loads of other stuff that you didn’t need to buy. I dunno if NTs enjoy this? Let me know. It seems like a total PITA. I’ve been known to walk into a clothes shop, turn around and walk right out again without buying ANYTHING, because fuck spending ages searching through racks of clothes while too-loud music plays and weird lighting does my head in. I swear shops in the future will be people rifling through a skip of clothes in total darkness while happy hardcore plays at ear-bleeding volume. And then everyone goes for a coffee afterwards. WTF, shops?

Anyway, add extra crowds, loud Christmas music and FLASHY LIGHTS to all this and it’s a no thanks from autistic people. Do your shopping online or arrange childcare. Please don’t force autistic people into an extremely uncomfortable situation.

Go easy on the Christmas decorations
Check with your autistic family member what is OK and what isn’t. Extremely flashy lights are generally a bad idea, as is anything very in-your-face. The break in routine can be really tough but it’s harder when your house looks TOTALLY different.

Don’t surprise us without checking first
Some autistic people are fine with surprises, many are really not. I once spent an hour hiding in the bathroom after receiving a very expensive and very unwanted surprise present. I felt awful, because I knew it was expensive and well-intended, but I didn’t want it and didn’t expect it. So I had the choice of pretend to like it and let it sit around a while before selling it on, or just coming clean at the risk of upsetting someone. Having to make a decision like that on top of all the normal Christmas stuff just tipped me over the edge. I don’t mind unwrapping stuff (some autistic people do) but I need to have a bloody good idea of what’s inside. If I want something, I’ll ask for it. If I don’t ask for something, it’s because I don’t want it. CHECK FIRST before you surprise people. And don’t think that ‘Christmas is ruined’ because something isn’t a surprise; Christmas is ruined if people have a bad time.

Don’t get hung up on the ‘right’ way to do Christmas
There isn’t a right way to celebrate Christmas, despite what the many adverts and magazines will have you believe. There are so many ways to celebrate Christmas, and the thing they all have in common is that people are having a good time. Whether or not that includes a tree, or presents, or turkey, or lights and music, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Don’t make Christmas about what society tells us is traditional, make it about people. Don’t insist on doing it the ‘right’ way to the detriment of autistic family members. If you’ve got autistic children AND NT children then why not start new family traditions that you ALL enjoy.

Season’s Greetings to you all!

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