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10 Tips for Autistic Adults Whose Holiday Routines Are Disrupted This Year

I find the holidays are always a stressful, emotional time of year. Being autistic, there are some extra areas I have to navigate, such as sensory overload and change of routine. However, news of the holidays being different due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a hot topic of conversation — a conversation that has caused me anxiety and a few meltdowns. It feels like it’s been nine months of constant changes in routine, regular sensory overload, everyday communication challenges, fatigue, and unpredictability mixed with a heightened state of, well, everything. Now that I find myself in the holiday season, I feel like I’m overloaded and overwhelmed to the point where I get stuck trying to figure out how things are going to be in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also get stuck figuring out how to prepare as an autistic adult.

In the past, I knew what the plans were no later than the week before Thanksgiving. I had times, locations, number of people, and menus to plan what my needs were and how to meet them. This year, many people’s plans have shifted. My partner and I have been having conversations. However, a lot is still unknown aside from the safety precautions. We decided to stay home and not see any family in-person for Thanksgiving due to me being immunocompromised due to health conditions. Our extended family plans are not concrete, and I don’t know how our unknowns will mix with their plans. My anxiety has been extremely severe without access to the traditions and routines I previously relied on, and I’m simultaneously trying to figure out what tools I will need to help navigate what will be a very different holiday season this year.

That’s why I discovered these 10 tips to help me prepare for the holidays as an autistic adult that I wanted to share:

  1. Have a conversation(s). Communicate about how holidays will be different and plan ahead for what they will look like this year.
  2. Decide on how to best incorporate the things that are most important to you.
  3. If having virtual/in-person events or gatherings to celebrate, think about your needs and how to best participate. For example, if larger virtual gatherings with family and/or friends are overloading, an option to consider might be breaking the virtual gatherings into smaller amounts and spreading them out across the week. 
  4. Make space for different emotions, expressions, sensory breaks and alone time.
  5. Take time to do things you enjoy and engage in self-care.
  6. Set your boundaries and uphold them.
  7. Remember, it’s OK to struggle. 
  8. Keep it simple.
  9. Seek support if needed (i.e., support groups, professional counselor, family etc.)
  10. Make sure your strategies and tools are available to you and easily accessible when you need them.

Getty image by Karma15381.