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Handling the Holidays: Tips for Self-Advocates

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays, you’re not alone. Lots of people struggle with living up to the holiday season’s expectations. While it’s usually a happy, joyful time of year that’s not always true for everyone.

Here are a few reasons why Neurodivergent people may struggle with this time of the year and how you can cope:

Difficulty planning ahead: Figuring out what needs to be done, when, and what is most important. You may not be able to do everything you want or need to do (and that’s okay!)

Difficulty with transitions and changes: Try to introduce changes gradually at home. Only introduce a few small changes to your schedule each time. Practice coping skills for things you cannot control. Be kind to yourself.

Sensory issues: Be aware of what your sensory issues are and try your best to explain them to other people. Use coping skills and have an exit plan if you need to excuse yourself. Make sure you have a safe comfortable place when you come home to decompress.

Allergies or food sensitivities: Be aware of your needs whether it’s avoiding nuts, dairy, etc. and let others around you know if you feel comfortable talking about it. Make sure to carry any medication you may have in case of exposure and/or a reaction.

Physical and/or mental health issues: This is a common time of year to get sick. It’s a good time to eat healthy and get enough sleep. It’s also a great idea to practice good hygiene, like washing your hands. Taking care of your mental health can influence your physical health too.

Past traumas or negative associations: Lots of people have issues with negative or unpleasant memories. Try to be aware and change things as needed to help avoid past triggers. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel “stuck,” having a previously chosen and trusted person discreetly offer support can be incredibly helpful. They can help you leave the setting, process your feelings, and/or suggest any coping strategies that have worked in the past.

Low funds: Plan your budget and discuss holiday expectations ahead of time so you can be careful how you spend money. Physical gifts aren’t always necessary. Talk about what is most important to enjoy the holidays with a trusted family member or friend.

Boundaries: Understanding your personal boundaries and communicating those to others is essential. Make sure you don’t overdo it before, during, and after a holiday activity or event. Take time to relax and recuperate.

Understanding “unwritten rules”: People often have ideas of what they want the holidays to be like but they often don’t talk about what they want or need to be successful. It can be easy to have misunderstandings occur because of a lack of communication.

Self-care is different for everyone: Knowing what works best for you takes time and effort. Also, be aware that your self-care needs may change throughout your life.

To read more about how to get through the holiday season, check out what other self-advocates have to say in these great blogs:

Taking Care of Yourself During the Holiday Season

Handling Hectic Holidays

As an independent Neurodivergent adult, the holidays can be stressful and tiring. Here are a few things that you can ask your family and friends to do that may help you feel more comfortable during holiday gatherings!

Ask for a copy of the schedule for any planned events to know ahead of time if anything changes. This may help you feel more prepared and comfortable.

Have family/friends explain expectations and unwritten rules beforehand. Remind them it’s important to be patient if you have lots of questions about the event, even if you already asked them before. Hearing the same answers may help you feel more confident about the events.

If they don’t remember to ask, talk to those you feel most comfortable with and tell them how to help or make you feel more at ease. If you feel embarrassed about needing more support try speaking to friends or family privately.

Ask someone you trust and the event host(s) ahead of time to help you find a safe, quiet place (if possible) to recharge and/or calm down. This will be helpful if you become overwhelmed by the noise or people.

Have a “code word” in case you need help or want to talk to someone. When it comes to holiday events, you might be exposed to new lights, sounds, tastes, and textures that you are not used to. Knowing when you are having sensory overload and that you can step away from the group at any moment is important.

Remind others of your boundaries beforehand. It is okay to share your thoughts, feelings, and personal concerns with one person and ask them not to tell anyone else, especially if this information is sensitive to you.

Anxiety can make things more difficult when getting together with others. Knowing your limits or setting boundaries is important for maintaining your mental health. For example you don’t have to:

  • Go to an event if you don’t feel up to it.
  • Be a part of every aspect of the event. For example, if you don’t enjoy singing or playing games, you don’t have to do either.
  • Stay for the whole time. If you can’t drive to the event separately, tell those you came with that you might want to leave early so that family/friends don’t try to “guilt” you into staying. You are allowed to have limits.

Self-advocates share their struggles with the holidays and ways to manage in this great resource:

Autistic Adults Share What Helped (and what didn’t) Manage the Stress of the Holidays

Check out these resources with more tips on how to manage the holidays:

Holiday Tips for Individuals with Autism

Tips for Surviving the Holidays

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
How to Manage Holiday Stress Common holiday stressors and how to manage them. pdf Download file: How to Manage Holiday Stress
Holiday Season Tips Tips for making holiday gatherings successful. pdf Download file: Holiday Season Tips

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.