It’s day three of #myKINDofChristmas and today we are focusing on thinking ahead: preparing for a month of change and unpredictability.

If you are newly diagnosed – or awaiting confirmation of being autistic, or just feeling your way through your own personal challenges around neurodiversity, it could be that you aren’t able to fully articulate why this season can be such a challenge. This can help you begin a journey of exploration around your own needs and desires. You can also use it as a tool to begin a conversation with family members.

For some of us the extra stimuli from lights, noise, sights and smells is just the tonic but for others of us it can be a month-long headache. And that’s before the subtle changes to everything from TV schedules to traffic, dealing with sequencing for shopping, wrapping, planning… the list goes on.

You can download our simplified poster below – and add in your own reminders – or read here for our top tips in more detail.

  1. Think about sensory triggers

 Start to think about the possible sensory triggers which may have an impact on you, your child or friend. For example the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree or the visual stimulus from the sparkly lights. If these give you a feeling of overwhelm you could search online to see which town centres have the most lights and which ones are more subtle. You can also opt for a reusable tree rather than fresh. And shopping online will help avoid overpowering smells designed to emulate Christmas.


  1. Think about your school or work day

 It’s taken all term to settle in, to get used to a new school-day routine, and suddenly nativity rehearsals, Christmas masses, parties and special food become part and parcel. It’s the same with work and college, or even navigating the High Street. Normal is not normal at this time of year. As schools or colleges for a plan – even if it’s not set in stone – to give a vague idea of what lies ahead. If you or your loved one struggles with executive functioning then visual reminders in the home and workplace – to signpost changes that will occur, or even to offer encouragement for the day to come, could be great. There’s so much going on that most of us would be overwhelmed at times during this month. Expect the unexpected – or at the very least – expect to be surprised this season.


  1. Think about new traditions

 Despite what Hallmark movies and Love Actually tell us, there’s no one way to celebrate Christmas. There are no rights and wrongs – only what helps us all feel happy and safe. Our mental health is so important so feeling like we aren’t doing Christmas the right way isn’t helpful at all.

 Don’t be guided by what other people do. Why not invent your own traditions? It could be that Home Alone and a cheese pizza is your perfect December 25th, or it could be that your annual tradition is not having a tree and swapping it for it a picture frame full of images that you have been grateful for. You could do Christmas day in pyjamas or get dressed up like it’s a party. The choice is yours – and the most important choice you can make is for you to do you. No comparison, no rules. Just what helps you feel happy, secure, safe and loved this Christmas.


  1. Think about wrapping

 What our gifts are wrapped in can actually have a bigger impact than you may initially think. The wrong wrapping paper can even spoil the gift for some people. One young person said he just can’t cope with the sound of presents being unwrapped so his Mum uses fabric instead. Why not visit stores in advance and to get an idea of which wrappings will be acceptable.  Or even suggest your own preference – with context! Make sure your nearest and dearest understand the ‘why’. Our drive for kindness is for all of us; we have a measure of patience for those trying to support ansd understand us, and we can expect kindness from those in our world. We may not be there yet – but we can start the ball rolling now.


  1. Think about shopping

 When shopping pop in your baskets things that you know will help you or your child feel calm. Although we are bombarded with ideas to make everything ‘extra special’ think about buying things that are ordinary and familiar to reduce demands of having to experience new things. When it comes to toys make sure everything is not so new that we will be expected to learn how to operate unfamiliar items. An excess of gifts can also be overwhelming for autistic people so remove the pressure or guilt on both sides. It’s okay not to want too many gifts, and it’s okay as a parent not to buy too many gifts. It’s even okay to buy one gift for one child and 10 for another – if both of those things work for your family. Here’s something radical – it’s even okay not to buy gifts at all. Let’s keep love and kindness central this Christmas!


  1. Think about noisy items

 Christmas and New Year may be synonymous with crackets and party poppers – but that could mean Christmas and New year are also synonymous with pain and fear for some neurodiverse people. When filling your basket with these festive items think about how your friend or loved one might respond. Even having crackers in the house can cause stress for some of us while others will love the loud bang. The great news is that you can buy muted crackers now. And there’s even quiet fireworks on the market for those extra special celebrations. Taking ear defenders in your bag and discussing with those close to you what a safe signal could be, to leave a situation without a fuss, could also help eradicate overwhelm before it kicks in.


This is just scratching the surface as you can tell, but hopefully it will begin a conversation on your kind of Christmas!

Click here to download this handy prep list!

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