Christmas – Maybe Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Especially for Those on the Spectrum

Warning: Parts of this post may trigger anxiety and distress.

Although most people perceive Christmas as, “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s a completely different story to those on the autistic spectrum. While I enjoy certain aspects of the festive season such as giving and receiving gifts, my mum’s home cooked Christmas dinner and spending some precious time with my family, there were two Christmases within the past five years that I found particularly hard to cope with.

The first of these Christmases was in 2012 when my brother, who has Kanner’s autism or classic autism, wanted to go swimming but my dad told him he couldn’t go because the leisure centre was closed. My brother then went into meltdown mode by screaming and jumping – he jumped up so incredibly high at one point that I was worried he would hurt himself. His meltdown was difficult for my sister, who is not on the spectrum, and me to deal with even though I am also on the spectrum and have meltdowns myself sometimes. Since then my dad has devised a routine for my brother every Christmas by driving him to the leisure centre to show him it is shut and then giving him a bag of Wilko pick and mix that he bought when the shop was open. This routine has proven successful every time.

This Christmas was the second one that was tough for me as well as the rest of my family. It turned out that my brother did not like the Christmas tree (apparently he didn’t like it as a child either, which I can’t remember) so my parents removed it and placed it elsewhere. For the majority of Christmases my brother didn’t seem to mind the tree so his dislike of it this year completely caught me by surprise. At lunchtime my brother seemed pleased with the Christmas dinner at first but he soon left the table and wanted to eat tuna and tomato pasta instead. Later on that day my parents took him out to Barry Island where he seemed content but when they returned he had yet another meltdown that overwhelmed my sister so much that she went home and left her presents behind. I was initially upset that she left her presents behind and hadn’t opened them at that point considering that I opened my presents from her but I soon realised that it was her decision to choose whenever she wanted to open hers. I have no idea what caused my brother’s meltdown this time around but I guess he either experienced some kind of sensory overload that was triggered by the tree or realised that he couldn’t adhere to his normal routine.

Some changes this Christmas that made it unlike previous Christmases were no longer receiving a Christmas Eve present let alone a stocking although these were only minor changes since I still received my main presents that I was extremely grateful for.

Overall Christmas can be a difficult time for those on the spectrum due to sensory overload caused by Christmas decorations, food that they are not normally used to eating or a change in routine. It can also be a stressful time for NTs in terms of them cooking Christmas dinner as well as buying and wrapping up presents. Next Christmas my family and I will be staying at a hotel in the Herefordshire countryside so hopefully things should be more relaxed and less stressful for us all by then.