Annual Gift Day

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or Yule – call it what you choose, it’s that time of the year when we decorate our homes with a tree, candles, and tinsel, and we have family and friends and family around to share drink and food. I’d like to take a look at things from the point of a person on the spectrum.

Autism and Christmas are not always the best mates. It can be a very stressful time for any family, but especially so for families with an autistic family member. Changes in usual routines, heightened expectations, and possible sensory overloads all add to anxiety levels and a sense of being overwhelmed.

Remember that every individual on the spectrum is very different. Each family and its dynamic is different, and will have its own traditions, routines and priorities. For some families, it is a rare occasion to enjoy seeing members of the extended family. Others find it is a time to share with just the immediate family members. Some might not have family, choosing to spend it either with friends or alone. Whatever the situation in your household, you will need to decide well in advance what your own priorities are.

If you have an austistic family member, it might help to ask yourself some of the following questions to help prepare for the festive season.

Guests and Family

  1. Who are the people you need to spend time with over Christmas?
  2. How long do you need to spend time with those people who do not form part of your daily life?
  3. How is everyone’s behaviour going to change – how will people greet others, how much you be eaten and drunk, how much louder/quieter will people be speaking?

Environment and House

  1. How much of the house will be decorated?
  2. Will there be Christmas-free zones?
  3. What sort of lights will be used? Will they flash?
  4. Will there be extra sounds, eg Christmas songs playing?
  5. How will the shops you visit change – seasonal goods, seasonal music, bands playing?


  1. How will television programmes change?
  2. Will you spend more or less time at home?
  3. When will your routines be restored?

Once you have established what your family’s Christmas celebrations will look like, the guest list is sorted and you’re clear what your priorities are, you will need to plan well in advance to help any of the autistic members of the family to prepare and to help to reduce their anxieties and confusion.

The main thing above everything is to not put too much pressure on the autistic members of your family or yourself. Just try to enjoy the holiday season and then start to prepare for next big event on the calendar, New Years Eve!

Stay Safe X

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