While Christmas is often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, the festive period can be extremely overwhelming for people on the autism spectrum.
Autism affects 1 to 2% of the UK population, with around 700,000 adults and children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
For those living with autism, Christmas can feel like an attack on the senses with new smells and sights, as well as loud noises, heightening sensitive sensory needs.
Dr Vaughn Price, Principal Clinical Psychologist at Beechwood College, has offered advice on how to effectively prepare an autism-friendly Christmas for yourself or a loved one.
Dr Price suggested: “Many autistic people have differing needs and sensitivities so understanding your own triggers or those of your loved one will help accommodate your environment and shape your Christmas plans. For example, some people may be comfortable with decorations for a short period of time over the festive season while others would prefer to avoid all decorations completely due to the sensory load of bright lights, colours and scents.
“Having a clear understanding of these needs will not only help make the holiday a more enjoyable time at home but can also inform activities elsewhere.”
Visits from extended family, particularly those who live far away and may have become unfamiliar due to the pandemic, and changes to routines can also add to feelings of stress.
Dr Price continued: “We know that routine is highly valued by many autistic people so adhering to the usual daily schedule as much as possible and very gradually introducing Christmas activities could make new or different additions to routines less daunting.
“Planning in advance can be a great support for visits from family and friends too. Sharing schedules can make visitors aware of how the festive season works for you, as well as reducing anxiety in social situations.
“Of course, even with the most precise preparation, Christmas can still be overwhelming. Designating a quiet, safe space in the home to escape to and relax is essential.”
Through planning and adapting the usual festive traditions, an autism-friendly Christmas can be enjoyed by everyone.