Updated: Apr 5
I really want to love Christmas. Family, food, cozy sweaters, old-timey movies--what's not to love? Unfortunately, when you're Autistic, the "nays" often outweigh the "yays" this time of year. Here are 12 things that get a big "no, thank you" from me during the holidays, plus the solutions I've found to make them bearable.
An Autism Personal Coach can help you find find your own ways to get through the season--contact us to learn how.
1. Change in routine
Autistic need for predictability
Different work schedules, different weather, different decorations everywhere, different responsibilities... Every non-normal thing means my brain is doing extra work and is one step closer to shutting down. My routines hold the world together and missing them feels like nothing will ever be okay again!
How I'm coping: I find it really helps to remember this: no matter what happens, I'll still get back to normal later. Even if there's a blizzard and I'm forced to spend the night at my parents' house, tomorrow I can go home and everything will be in order again. The weirdness is not forever, even though it feels like it.
2. Giving gifts
Autistic difficulty making decisions
How do I fully encapsulate my love for someone with the perfect gift? Everyone can just order whatever they want off the internet, so what if they already have the thing I'm thinking of? There are just too many variables to consider! I've been in analysis paralysis since July!
How I'm coping: Did you know you can just ask people what they want? Sure, it feels less "genuine" than choosing on your own, but at least you know they'll like it and you get to be done worrying. Or, if you're a crafty kind of person, you can always hand-make gifts at the last minute. Guess who's going to be needle felting for the next 48 hours straight? (The answer is me.)
3. Receiving gifts
Autistic different ways of expressing emotions
What if I don't make a happy enough face when I open a present? How do I express the appropriate amount of gratitude? What if someone gets me something way nicer than what I got them? Then I'm going to owe them something better next year to make it even! It's an endless cycle of torment!
How I'm coping: You might be surprised to learn that most people don't have a mental scorecard for their relationships; they just kind of "go with it." You're allowed to do that, too. You're also allowed to say this: "Hey, don't get me anything for Christmas, okay? I'd much rather just spend some quality time together." All of the love, none of the pressure!
4. Different business hours
Autistic difficulty with executive function
About once a month or so, the stars align and I have the capacity to run an errand. I must immediately jump on this opportunity because who knows when it will come again! But thanks to the holidays, suddenly businesses are closed when I'm not expecting. I'm really happy the mechanic is taking time off for family, but it also means I probably won't get to fix my car until February.
How I'm coping: Talk to someone about it. I often get fixated on a single solution without realizing, and wind up stuck at a dead end. Maybe someone else will have another idea you hadn't thought of. A personal Coach is the perfect problem-solving partner for times like these!
5. Cinnamon-scented pinecones
Autistic sensory needs
I have almost no sense of smell, so when I can smell something it means it's particularly pungent. If I can smell it and it bothers me, I assume it must be absolute torture for everyone else. Enter the cinnamon-scented pinecone, the most eye-wateringly and sinus-burningly intense smell of the year.
How I'm coping: My personal favorite strategy is to hold my nose shut while shuffling past and saying, "Ugh, those pinecones are the worst!" Does it accomplish anything? No. But sometimes you just need to complain a little, right?
6. Visiting drivers
Autistic need for more time to process input
I'm so happy to see my loved ones and I'm happy you're seeing yours, too. But when the guy in front of me with the out-of-state license plate is doing Nutcracker-style ballet across three lanes of traffic, I'm looking forward to the days when we invent teleportation.
How I'm coping: Other than seeking different transportation or becoming a hermit, there's not much we can do about this. I refuse to let anyone pressure me to drive faster than I feel safe, and try to remember that I can pull off the road and take a break if things get too intense.
7. Shipping delays
Autistic difficulty making decisions
Being Disabled means I often rely on online shopping get what I need (see #4). But it also takes a ton of energy to choose between 57 nearly-identical pairs of socks on the internet, so it still takes me a long time to make a purchase. Great job me, I finally ordered socks! But now they won't get here until February!
How I'm coping: If you absolutely need something right away, can someone you know pick it up for you locally? This is another good time to talk to your support network for new ideas.
8. Extra small talk
Autistic communication differences
I will never know what the right answer is to "How was your Christmas?" and I will never remember to ask you back. Sorry! So let's just stick to discussing the weather and how it's almost Friday, okay? I know the answers to those ones.
How I'm coping: I've been playing a new game: how fast I can make small talk be about my cat? "How was my Christmas, you ask? We got a real tree! Luckily the cat didn't try to climb it." Ha, got there in three sentences!
9. Dry air
Autistic sensory needs
I can't always tell when I feel thirsty and I don't really like the sensation of drinking. Combine that with the dry mouth from my ADHD medication and I'm slowly drying to a crisp. My skin is rough, scratchy, and itchy, but I can't stand the greasy feel of lotion or lip balm.
How I'm coping: I've been letting myself splurge on my favorite sports drinks. It's worth a few dollars a week to help myself stay hydrated. I'm also trying out a variety of hand lotions and have found a few I can tolerate. You could also try getting a humidifier, but I think I'd never remember to clean one.
10. Temperature changes
Autistic sensory needs and difficulty with transitions
I run hot, so the body heat that builds up under a coat is unbearable when I get back inside. I feel like I'm suffocating, boiling, and trapped. My first instinct is to rip all my clothes off and open every window, but everyone else probably wouldn't love that idea!
How I'm coping: Just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to dress like it. You can wear shorts if you want! For me, being too cold for the first few minutes outside is totally worth it to not be overheated later. Take your coat off before you go inside, too!
11. Feeling everyone else's stress
Stores are crowded, we haven't seen the sun in weeks, and it gets dark at 4:30 in the evening. We're all waiting for the next big storm to hit and bury our cars. Everyone's honking their horns and fighting for parking spots, trying to find the perfect gifts. I can't help but absorb the stress of everyone around me and add it to my own.
How I'm coping: I've been trying to keep my life as normal as possible while concentrating my social efforts on people who keep things positive. It's okay to take a break from people who wear you out, even if you care about them a whole lot.
12. My own limitations
Autistic need for support and accommodation
I don't dislike that I'm Autistic--it's the reason for all my favorite things about myself. But I do have a lot of frustration over the reality of my very limited energy levels. I want to be the kind of person who gives the best gifts, goes to all the family gatherings, enjoys a break from the daily norm, and barely notices all the chaos.
How I'm coping: I'm finally starting to accept that is just isn't possible for all of those things to happen at the same time, and that's okay! So what if everyone thinks I'm bad at giving gifts? At least then their expectations will be more realistic! We're all good at different things, and we deserve to experience holidays in ways that feel good for us.
In the end, the people that matter are the ones who love you no matter what you get them, even if it's made of pipe cleaners and two weeks late. Isn't that the whole point of Christmas anyway?
So hang in there, stim freely, and remember: you don't have to do this again for a whole year!