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 making this festive period less stressful whilst recognising Christmas can look very different for everyone.
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.
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.
Please note, our Advice Line will be closed at 4pm on the 17th of December 2021 and reopen on the 4th of January 2022 at 10am. You can still email or leave a voicemail during this period and an advisor will get back to you when the Advice Line reopens.
Post Covid-19 festive period
Although we are still being impacted by Covid-19, many families might choose to have larger celebrations this year in comparison to last year. For many families, the festive holidays in 2020 was a small-scale affair with restrictions coming into effect.
- For some people they may refer back to the festive holidays in 2020 as their most recent experience of Christmas and, therefore, base their expectations for this year's celebrations upon those memories. If this is the case for you or your son, daughter, relative or friend, then try to consider how to best prepare for a potentially larger-scale, busier festive period. This might include things like using photos or video footage from busier festive holidays, using visuals or social stories.
- The person you know might have feelings of anxiety about a busier festive holiday, especially if they have spent a significant amount of time at home over the last year. Try to understand why they may feel this way. Perhaps the risk of Covid-19 infection (or other seasonal bugs and illnesses) is worrying them or the social side of being around other people or the disruption to their regular routine is causing anxiety.
- 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.
Festive Holiday Tips
Be aware that all our experiences are different so take some time to get to know your loved one’s preferences.
Some people love the festive period but for some the anticipation of this holiday can be overwhelming.
“My son loses sense of time once decorations are up in the house. We have a ‘days until Christmas’ countdown which helps our son”.
Preparing for the festive holiday
- Photos of the Christmas tree from previous years, or decorations in your house are helpful to form a social story around holiday expectations. It might help to look at these beforehand to ease anxiety around the changes.
- Discuss the facts around the festive holiday, what it means and what will happen. For example, make a plan around when you will be putting up the decorations and include everyone in the preparations if they want to.
- Decorate the tree and house together. This can take away confusion and a chance to get familiar with any decorations.
- 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 holidays should be an enjoyable time for everyone, however that may look for you and your family.
- Countdown calendars are helpful if the person understands ‘days’, not only counting down to Christmas day but maybe helpful to remind your child of some key events. For example when the school holiday starts 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 holiday, as well as Christmas day. For example getting ready or keeping breakfast to the usual time.
- Changes to the routine at school or work can be stressful, so think about what you or your child needs when they get home after a stressful day.
- Remember to have any repeat prescriptions and medication ordered.
- Follow their lead. 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.
- If you only open 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 they may prefer to open their 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? Perhaps invite family and friends over at time that suits you or your family. Everyone benefits form 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 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.
- 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 the person knows in advance what is going to happen.
- It is possibly a good idea to have a more relaxed time with family as Christmas day its self 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.
- If they are sad Christmas day is over perhaps keep a small present behind to give them today.
- If they are still very excited it may be a good idea to keep things festive.
Between Christmas and New Year
This week can be difficult as many routines are out of place such as school 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 they would appreciate activities they enjoy to fill up their time such as baking or going outside.
- It can also be a useful time to recover from the celebrations. If they are tired, allow them 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 they 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 the person.
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 and their normal routines.
- Take it in stages. If they 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.