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Christmas can be a magical time. For many people, it is an exciting time of year, filled with plenty of fun and surprises, including bright and festive decorations, the anticipation of giving and receiving gifts, and the excitement of catching up with family and friends.
For some, especially autistic people or those with anxiety, these changes to routine can be both confusing and overwhelming. In particular, for people who thrive on routine, or are hypersensitive to noise, taste, touch, smell or bright lights, the Christmas period can be a very stressful time.
We chatted to the Precious team to share their top tips for things to think about when preparing for the Christmas period.
Using photos from past Christmases, or pictures of Christmas trees and decorations, can be a great way to create a social story to help people to know what to expect and ease anxiety around the changes.
It can be useful to make a plan of what will happen and when. Are people coming to visit? Is dinner going to be at a different time? Are you going out to Christmas events? Try to keep some of your usual routines in place.
Decorate the tree and house together. This can take away the confusion and offer a chance to get familiar with any decorations. It can also help to take things slow. Consider putting up a few decorations at a time so that the change isn’t too overwhelming. Some families opt for a one-day Christmas, with decorations and light put up and taken down in the same day.
Have a designated place to relax and retreat, especially if you plan to have guests. It can be helpful to plan some time out – a walk in the park or some fresh air can be great for reducing anxiety.
Some people LOVE surprises, while others may prefer to know what they are receiving. The pressure of being watched or understanding social expectations around present giving and receiving can also be tough for some. Go with what works.
While a traditional Christmas dinner might usually involve turkey and all the trimmings, there are no set rules. The main thing is that everyone is happy. If people have ‘safe foods’ that they are happy eating, it can be less stressful to stick with what you know will go down well! Equally, remember that not everyone likes the bang of a cracker.
Christmas is a busy time, with lots of social expectations and masses of unusual sensory experiences. It can be useful to plan some downtime, once the excitement is over, to help ease back into usual routines.