Dealing with expectation from relatives, especially at Christmas, can be a minefield for any family. But what we are often told is that within extended families there can be a lack of understanding when it comes to autism, and how that could impact on festivities.


For day 30 of My Kind of Christmas we hear from autistic activist and writer, Kieran Rose, on some of his observations and feelings concerning family boundaries and our agony aunt responds to some questions we’ve received from families.

Click here to see some questions answered by our agony aunt

Director of Infinite Autism and dad-of-three, Kieran Rose, writes:

“You’d better watch out, you better not cry.
You’d better not pout, I'm telling you why…
Santa Claus is coming to town.”

For many people, lyrics like these only increase excitement and anticipation of a time brimming with magic and joy, but for many others, they forewarn impending doom, because Christmas brings with it the one thing that strikes terror into the heart of autistic adults and children everywhere: CHANGE.

It's winter, so the light outside is different;

the temperature drops;

a tree appears where trees shouldn’t be;

elves materialise on shelves;

TVs loop endless films full of snow,

when all you can see outside is rain;

shops blast out weird, tinny, repetitive music;

piercing lights flash and flicker everywhere;

people wear brightly coloured clothes

and then there’s this unsettling notion that you’ll be given things based on subjective behaviour, delivered by a bearded man who keeps your name on a list and forces his way down your chimney…

All this to celebrate the birth of a child, born 2000 years previously… in March!

Go figure!


It’s also a time of year when social expectations skyrocket.  

You must sit at the table and eat all of this food that doesn’t exist outside of this one day;

you must pull crackers that make your ears hurt;

you must be assaulted by people underneath strange plants tied to doorways;

you must wear clothes that itch and scratch;

you must cope with endless swathes of people turning up randomly at your house singing carols;

you must speak with relatives you didn’t know existed;

you must accept your friends wearing clothes that make them look like strangers;

you must be grateful when you’re handed a parcel full of things you didn’t ask for, or want, or worse, things you did want but are too overwhelmed to even recognise.

Through all this I urge people to remember responsibility. 

What you want or need is not what everybody wants or needs.  The best present you can give anyone at Christmas is boundaries; making your boundaries clear and respecting those of other people.

Here’s what I suggest:

  • Ask permission to touch. 
  • Be conscious of the fact that an act of what you may perceive as ungratefulness could actually be a response based on overwhelm, confusion and pain.
  • Don’t take offence if you turn up unannounced at someone’s door and they say no.
  • Don’t take offence if you invite someone to come to you and they say no.
  • Ask if you can help by turning off the music, dimming the lights etc.
  • Don’t pressure people into things that make them uncomfortable, even if they don’t feel uncomfortable for you
  • If you’re the person who needs to make the boundaries, don’t hesitate to make them.
  • Don’t feel guilty about not forcing yourself, or your loved ones, to mask the pain of what can literally be the most destructive time of year for an autistic person.

The meaning of Christmas has been lost over the years through capitalism, but the true message behind it is one of care. Of love and of kindness. 

Christmas doesn’t need to be overwhelming.  Christmas needs to be what makes it a happy and safe time of year for everyone.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on your troubles will be out of sight.”