Coping with change during the festive season

Last year due to Coronavirus restrictions, many of us didn’t take part in the usual festive activities that countdown to Christmas Day. Festive meals, work parties or visits to relatives were cancelled – or moved online instead.  


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Rebecca’s experience 

“Last year I wasn’t in school in December so I didn’t have to face the decorations and flashing lights that send me into sensory overload so I’m nervous about having to face that.” 

“The festive period can be difficult because of the change of routine. All the shops have a different layout, people wear different clothes and there is also the added sensory aspect of lights and Christmas songs being played. There is also the social pressure to interact with other people and also to be happy when the environment you are in makes you very far from being happy."

She added: “Flashing lights dazzles me and sends me into sensory overload and a shutdown. I don’t go to Christmas parties because of the noise and social pressure to behave in a certain way.” 


Ieuan’s experience  

“The build up to Christmas can bring a lot of change for autistic people to adapt to, such as different routines; the expectations to see friends, family and co-workers more often and socialise with them; and a ‘buzz’ of people making spaces such as shops and restaurants crowded, loud and overly stimulating."

"I struggle with visiting family and socialising with them. I am also anxious about attending Christmas work parties and blurring the line between professional and social relationships."

I feel that we should keep in mind that the best way to be accessible is to be flexible to different people’s needs. I believe we should understand that people might have got used to having more space when out and about, but due to spaces being busier, they no longer get to enjoy this.” 


Lucy’s experience  

“I am looking forward to return to normal Christmas activities this year, as the usual routine for Christmas is back! However I have been quite anxious about Christmas since the beginning of September, as Christmas is very overwhelming for me."

“The crowding in shops makes me very anxious and claustrophobic, and if there are flashing lights, I am unable to see where I am going, and I get disoriented and dizzy. Having loud Christmas music playing makes me very disoriented and anxious."

“I also struggle with the unknown, so opening presents that I don’t know what is inside can be quite stressful, as I need to think about how I am going to react to each gift, so the person I got it from knows that I like it."

“These reactions take a conscious effort as I sometimes do not display my emotions in the same way as others, but I don’t want to upset someone for not showing them that I am happy with the gift in a way they understand."

“The pressure to be happy at Christmas can be huge, and can make me feel more overwhelmed and sad.” 


Aiden and Robbie’s experiences 

Aiden said: “The festive period is a huge change of routine. It’s very disorienting sensorily due to how different it is, especially the big family meals when normally my household doesn’t eat with us all together, let alone with other people too. I also find that getting people gifts and receiving them really stresses me out. 

Robbie said: “I don’t like parties or big groups on the whole, I am fine with other events such as crackers and lights, can find unfamiliar people tricky.” 

Further reading 

Read autistic young people’s festive top tips.



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