Practically and logically speaking the Old Christmas Story is fearful to the autistic person. Throughout my childhood, Christmas has been a challenging time for me for many factors. I am finally happy to say that I am in a good place with the holiday season and can manage the struggles it brings.
Growing up to me, Jolly Old Saint Nick was a fear for me. Starting when I could recollect things, fear was driven in school when the teacher told a story where she saw Santa in the middle of the night when she went to the bathroom. From that point forward, I had the concept in my mind that I needed to stay in bed and not leave it. Christmas Eve throughout my childhood until two years ago has always been overstimulating with loads of people in my parents house. For the years when my dad’s siblings took turns hosting his side of the holiday, we would either have to go somewhere or have it at our house. We would always have siblings from my dad’s first marriage, their spouses, then their children, and as they adulted, their spouses. As they had children in the past few years, and COVID has set in the world, they have either came in small groups or chose not to visit due to the situation in the world.
With all the changes before the holiday and then that on Christmas Eve, it was oftentimes difficult for me to wind down for bed. Let alone the at one point undiagnosed and untreated anxiety I faced about whether I was “good” enough to get gifts for Christmas. Imagine, a young boy, who, until the age of 13 had a host of mental health diagnoses and a handful of challenges throughout the year singing songs that made me feel I had to be good for gifts to arrive on Christmas Day. It was hard to get to sleep on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day and everyone in my house suffered, even after my diagnosis.
Having to go and visit multiple houses over the holidays, sometimes within just a few days, was another struggle that I experienced. Along with the host of food to add to the palette, some I liked a lot and some not so much. All those sights and sounds were a loaded sensory palette for me to manage during the holidays. As I grew into adulthood it became easier, and with becoming an adult didn’t give as much time off at Christmas and New Years like in School. School had its challenges too with having modified routines and schedules along with things that I didn’t particularly care for like holiday assemblies and parties. I did enjoy the time off that I was able to experience back then because of all the issues, particularly in some of the school years it was much needed to have a break.
The last decade, things have become less involved. Work is basically very limited. Day program happens but at a smaller capacity and we do not have to go and visit other family members’ homes as we did when I was a small child. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss the days of doing that when I was a innocent child and being able to spend time with my grandparents in my prime. My maternal grandparents loved the holidays and they made sure we were well taken care of and had a host of treats and food around their house around the holidays. As some of my aunts and uncles had passed and later my grandparents passed, things have sort have been just our immediate family. That is OK with me. I also have to accept the fact that while that is so, it is not just about me. I must consider others’ needs. That includes my sister and her children, who deserve to celebrate Christmas with us in their home. I have done this before and although it can be challenging for me. I accept the fact that I have to put on the defense mechanisms and use the tools in my toolbox so that I can make it an enjoyable visit for everyone. We are not guaranteed the next Christmas in our life with our family members and I must respect the wishes of the family and do what is asked of me.
Holidays are a challenge, especially for autistic individuals. Thankfully I have learned the tools necessary to make them enjoyable for the environment that I must be surrounded by. There were times that it wasn’t and my parents had paid dearly for my challenges that I presented for the special time of the year. I am ever thankful for the support professionals that helped me become the man that I am. The possibilities are endless. Whatever you are doing this holiday season, make sure that the autistic individual in your life is able to manage themselves safely and can be at ease when experiencing the holiday festivities. Autistic individuals deserve to be happy just as much as their neurotypical peers this holiday season.
Make it a December to Remember!