Here it is – an unpublished would-have-been feature on Christmas and autism. If my increasingly frequent blog posts are getting annoying a) blame my lecturers and b) I’m not making a habit of blogging twice in as many days, so don’t worry. Meanwhile, enjoy!
What are Christmas traditions these days? Well, what do they involve for you? For me, Christmas will typically include church, cake decorating, minimal coursework and pulling one of our cats out of the Christmas tree. My family and I make quite a big thing of Christmas; some of you may be with me on this one, others not so much. One thing’s for sure: your way of celebrating an occasion is as unique as you are.
I know that for some people with disabilities, Christmas is a bit of a challenge. This is the first special needs article where I’m not writing from recent experience. According to my Mum, she could buy presents for me as a child while I was with her and I would be none the wiser. If anything, though, I think that must have been an advantage.
Having said that, I did have trouble expressing gratitude for presents, no matter how much I liked them. It still doesn’t come naturally to show a lot of emotion, but my parents taught me the drill at an early age: look at the giver of the present with a pleased expression and say thank you. Might sound simple, but it doesn’t pay to forget it!
I was also told that I would ask for the same sort of presents each year. Usually a soft toy, chocolate, plasticine and a book about whichever subject I currently had an autistic obsession with. I was never interested in whichever children’s toys were popular at the time, a common issue with autistic people and Christmas.
For some, these things go on into adulthood. This isn’t necessarily a problem – I mean, why would popular trends be any more interesting at Christmas than at any other time of year? Another thing is that an aversion to change means that a season of lots of people, excitement and surprises can be too much to handle. This can be more stressful. For the more introverted among us, having, or attending, a houseful of people, or remembering who to keep in touch with while you have the time is exhausting enough without being overloaded by the sudden disruption to routine.
So how do people on the spectrum deal with this? By keeping surprises to a minimum, maybe. Some autistic people prefer to be told in advance what they are getting for Christmas, some may simply want the same things each year. Or by getting used to each change one by one – getting the tree out, then gradually adding decorations over time, for example. Keeping track of presents you have bought? Make a list. Making sure to have a break from people? Now this is where I speak with experience. Full of food, in your own room and surrounded by presents – it doesn’t get much better than that.
I think the point I am trying to make here is that we all have our own ways of making the most of an occasion, and autistic ways are no exception. Hoping to enjoy Christmas? Spend time with your family and friends. Eat, drink and be merry. If, like me, you are a Christian, go to church. Enjoy and appreciate your presents, no matter how different they may be to your peers’. And don’t be afraid to retreat from it all. Whichever way you choose to celebrate, or not, each to their own, I say.