Preparing for the Festive Season
The festive period can be a special time of year, but for some it can be daunting and unpredictable. Changes in daily structure and routine combined with perhaps new toys or gifts, seasonal foods, decorations and louder music. Or perhaps more social events with unfamiliar groups of people can make for a particularly overwhelming and stressful time for autistic people and their families.
We have put together a list of useful tips that we hope may prove helpful in supporting everyone to have an enjoyable festive period whilst recognising Christmas can look very different for everyone.
Our Advice Line will then close again at 4pm on the 29th of December 2023 until the 3rd of January 2024 at which point, we will return to our usual opening hours.
You can still email or leave a voicemail during the periods in which our Advice Line will be closed, and an advisor will get back to you when the Advice Line reopens.
It is important to note our Advice Line is here to provide advice support and guidance in relation to Autism however if you or a loved one are experiencing a crisis and are in need of crisis support, please reach out to one or more of the organisations on our Crisis Support page.
Self-care and where to seek help if required
Whether you are an autistic person or parent/carer/friend, the festive period is a time when self-care is crucial. Take time to reflect on how you are feeling and try to take time out each day for yourself, be kind to yourself and try not to let the additional pressures of this busy period overwhelm you. It’s ok to turn down invitations, or say no.
It can be very easy to use up all of your energy on others, please remember to leave some energy for you.
Again, if you feel you need additional support at this time, please reach out to one or more of the organisations on our Crisis Support page.
Tips to enjoy the Festive Period
Some people love the festive period, but for some the anticipation of this period can be overwhelming.
Be aware that all our experiences are different so take some time to get to know your or your loved one’s preferences.
“My son loses sense of time once decorations are up in the house. We have a ‘days until Christmas’ countdown which helps our son”.
Planning and Preparation
Discussing the facts around the festive period, what it means and what will happen can be helpful to prepare for the festive period. This might include things like using photos or video footage from the festive period, using visuals or social stories.
Planning for the festive period can be especially helpful in terms of environmental changes, difference in routine and increased social interaction.
Although we have now been in a period of stability with the Covid-19 pandemic, over the past couple of years the festive period has been a small-scale affair due to restrictions that were in effect. Therefore, it is important to consider what impact this may have for autistic people. For some people they may refer back to the festive period during the pandemic as their most recent experience of Christmas and, therefore, base their expectations for this year's celebrations upon those memories. It may be particularly useful to utilise some of the suggested methods of preparation to support yourself or your loved ones with a potentially busier festive period.
You or the person you know might have feelings of anxiety about the festive period, try to focus on what will be staying the same, although there are a number of things changing, many things will continue to stay constant.
It might be helpful to consider how your usual routine can be maintained and consider yours and/or their needs, voice, choice, thoughts and wishes in any plans that are being made.
The change to the house can be overwhelming. You don’t have to decorate the whole house or put all your decorations up at the same time. You might want to keep them to specific room or do it gradually. The festive period should be an enjoyable time for everyone, however that may look different for you and/or your family.
Photos of the Christmas tree from previous years, or decorations in your house are helpful to form a social story around what to expect during the festive period. It might help to look at these beforehand to ease anxiety around the changes or create a collage of all the festive things we may see around us. This can be done on paper and kept for future years or can be done using a free collage app.
Remember to check with work, school or nursery when the Christmas preparations will start so that you can prepare yourself and/or child for the changes associated with the Festive Period. Changes to the routine at school or work can be stressful, so think about what you or your loved ones needs when getting home after a stressful day.
Countdown calendars are helpful, not only counting down to Christmas day but as a reminder of some key events. For example, when the festive period will start to when friends and relatives might be visiting.
Try and keep some aspects of your daily routine the same in the lead up to the festive period, as well as Christmas day. For example, keeping to the usual time of your or your loved ones daily routine.
Remember to have any repeat prescriptions and medication ordered ahead of the Festive Period.
Others may be dressed differently over the Festive Period as there may be more sparkles and sequins than usual! It is important to be aware of the impact this may have on you or your loved one.
Remember there are lots of ‘relaxed’ pantomimes, films and shows around the country which aim to create supportive and accessible environments which may allow you or someone you know to enjoy a festive event more comfortably.
Be prepared when you go to visit friends/family or attend an event. For example:
Arrive earlier before it gets busy and establish a ‘quiet area’ where you or someone you know can go if things are overwhelming.
Take any items that support you or someone you know to enjoy these situations such as ear defenders, sunglasses, weighted blanket/teddies, fidget toys and/or communication cards.
Send relatives and friends a message to let them know about preferences like no hugging or strong perfume, that way everyone is prepared.
Quiet time in a calm room may help after the excitement of presents, or just enable you or someone in your home to take a break.
Unwrapping presents can be stressful, some may prefer to know what they are receiving, or they may prefer gifts left out without wrapping paper or even left in open gift bags.
For those who find it tricky to wait, take the packaging off gifts before you wrap them and make sure batteries are included!
If the thought of Santa Claus coming down the chimney is one that causes anxiety, let him deliver presents to another family member or friend.
If you or your loved one only opens one or two presents, that’s ok too. Don’t force it, approach the day in your own time, in a way that suits you and your family. It might be that you or your loved one may prefer to open presents in a staggered way. A few in the days before Christmas day, Christmas day itself and then following Christmas day.
If the day involves seeing extended family, how can you and your family prepare for the visit? Show photos of relatives and friends who might be part of your festive celebrations. Perhaps invite family and friends over at a time that suits you or your family. Everyone benefits from a bit of quiet from time to time so is there a quiet space available if things get a bit too crowded? Does it help to be clear about when everyone will go home after a family gathering?
Festive traditions change, so don’t worry if your Christmas now looks different to the ones you remember as a child. You may want to incorporate a familiar activity or tradition that you or the family can enjoy, such as opening an advent calendar, switching on the Christmas tree lights. Above all…do it your way. Make your own new traditions that suit you and your family’s needs.
While it can be nice for everyone to eat together and to try traditional foods, it’s not essential you do this! Even if that means a plate of chicken nuggets for Christmas dinner! Everyone’s happiness on the day is the goal.
If there are Christmas crackers on the table, let the person decide when to pull. Or are loud bangs just too much for the person?
Boxing Day can be strange. It can either be a day to recover or a day to see other family you didn’t see on Christmas day.
Make sure you or your loved one knows in advance what is going to happen.
It is possibly a good idea to have a more relaxed time with family on Boxing day as Christmas day itself can be very stressful, if it’s been a busy day with lots of visitors.
This may be a good day to take down decorations to allow for a smoother change back to regular routines.
Between Christmas and New Year
This week can be difficult as many routines are out of place such as school, work or television schedules.
If New Year isn’t important this may be a good time to start working back towards normality.
It can be difficult to fill time during this week. Perhaps plan activities you or your loved one enjoy to structure those days such as baking or going outside.
It can also be a useful time to recover from the celebrations. If you or your loved one is tired, allow time to relax.
You could also use this week to work towards re-establishing a good night time routine if this has been interrupted during the festive period.
New Year, like Christmas, can be a big celebration or for some people it’s a quiet day. However, the changes to routine may be too much.
Hogmanay can play havoc with night time routines. If you or your loved one have trouble sleeping it may be helpful if the whole family treat December 31st as a usual bedtime.
It is also worth repeating the strategies you may have in place for bonfire night as there are often fireworks.
New Year’s Day can also be a good day to have a less formal meeting with family if Christmas Day is too formal or disruptive to you or your loved one.
Back to normality
By the time New Year's Day is over, people are often keen to get back to their version of normal. The last few days of the festive period can be difficult as some people might be excited or anxious about things getting back to normal, or for some it’s a fresh start in a new year. You and your family maybe reflecting on goals you want to achieve.
Once New Year’s Day has passed, it can be helpful to prepare for a return to school/college/work, normal routines.
Take it in stages. If you or your loved one have been out of their routines over the festive period spend the time between Christmas day and going back to normal, to re-establish good bed, meal and free time routines.