Christmas: How to enjoy the festive fun in an autism-friendly way

  • Charanpreet Khaira hears about some of the challenges facing autistic people during the Christmas period.

The festive season is known for being a special time of year, but for autistic people it can present many challenges. 

Changes to daily structure and routine, combined with unpredictability of events can be particularly challenging for the individuals and their families. 

Sensory overload from busy shopping areas, bright decorations as well as social exhaustion during family gatherings are just a few examples of the changes that can have a negative impact on an autistic person. 

Autistic Minds aim to improve the lives of young adults with Autism. Credit: Autistic Minds

One in every 100 people is estimated to be autistic and while different people's experiences differ, many autistic people say they find Christmas overwhelming.

Autistic Minds wants to raise awareness about the difficulties autistic people can face during the Christmas period.

Why can Christmas be hard for autistic people?

Changes to routine, an overload of sensory stimulation from Christmas lights and loud noises, and lots of social pressure can all make Christmas a difficult time for autistic people.

For some, loud noises and bright colours could be triggering, for others they could be tiring and make it hard to focus.

Familiarity can be really helpful for autistic people - so an influx of relatives and friends who they might not see regularly can be difficult and destabilising. 

What can be done to make things easier?

Rhys is sharing his top tips for an autism friendly Christmas

Autistic Minds’ Rhys Jenkins wants it to be more socially acceptable for autistic people like himself to take time to themselves at Christmas.

Although Christmas is centred around socialising with family and friends, he says time alone can ‘recharge his social batteries.’

In some cases, that can extend to eating Christmas dinner at a different time. He says there’s a lot of taboo around this point, but for him, the social pressure and sensory overload of a Christmas dinnertime can be difficult. 

When it comes to Christmas shopping, busy town centres and department stores can be difficult to deal with.

Rhys recommends shopping online to avoid the bustle - or to take a shopping list to provide some focus and clarity.

Although he loves Christmas lights and music, they do tire him out. For others, loud music and colourful lights can trigger a sensory overload and cause lots of stress.

Autism Minds is encouraging people to be aware of the impact these stimuli can have on autistic people - and can adapt to their needs.