Tips on how to manage the period between Christmas and New Years if you’re Autistic
Through December, Christmas is undoubtedly one of the most talked about subjects in the UK. Sometimes it seems like it is all anyone can talk about. While the holidays are often difficult, the pandemic has only added to the usual Christmas anxieties and challenges some Autistic people experience.
There’s no doubt that the uncertainty and disrupted routines that are characteristic of the holidays (and now exacerbated by a global pandemic) are challenging. But what happens after Christmas day?
We need to talk about Betwixmas – the ‘between stage’ between Boxing Day until New Year’s Day when it can feel like time comes to a standstill as we all just wait for the year to come to a definitive conclusion. There are no resources that are widely available about this period, which is why I’ve written this article!
In summary, here are my tips about how to get through Betwixmas:
Keep a Routine
Make Time in Context
It’s all about the Visuals
Use Sensory Aids
Indulge in Special Interests
Keep A Routine
When it comes to living in a world that is inaccessible, a lot of Autistic people rely on routines as a way of understanding the world around us. I myself love routines and would be really lost without them.
Conceptualizing time may be difficult for people on the Autistic spectrum (more on this below). However, Betwixmas relies on there being no time at all - there is nothing to do but relax, finish your Christmas food up, take down the decorations, read your books and use your new swag. There is no structured time, meaning the days tend to blend into one.
COVID-19 has also impacted the way time is structured, because, thanks to the ever-changing restrictions and having to quickly adapt to new realities - such as working from home, it feels like we have almost become timeless.
So, the solution: keep a routine. Have set times to eat and drink and stick to them. Make sure you go to bed around the same time. And if it would be beneficial, make the timetable visual - such as by drawing it out as a poster, writing your commitments and tasks out as a list or using Tiimo to create your visual routine to have on your phone or smartwatch. Routines create a sense of structure and are a great way to add context and understanding of the world around us.
Put Time in Context
You know those moments in life when you learn something and suddenly everything just clicks into place and suddenly makes sense? Well, the Instagram user @curiosophie posted about and the theory of mind - and how both interact for many Autistic people. Mind. Blown.
We may not necessarily be able to envision a future due to our theory of mind - and for me, personally, this impacts being able to understand time. When it comes to a time of year when time essentially collapses, I struggle because I cannot contextualize it. This of course impacts the way that I interact with the world. When it comes to Betwixmas specifically, I really struggled as an undiagnosed pre-teen.
So, to cope with this: make time visual and give it context. Have timers set up, install a clock or three, and if you have an Autistic child make sure to explain time to them. Again, Tiimo’s notifications make it easier to visualise both when activities start and the transition times between activities. Try and stick to timings - so if you decide to go out, make it specific. For example, ‘We will leave at this time, we will spend one hour at A, another at B, and then return home.’ Create routines and schedules (which are a great way to add context!), and visualize them whether or not you have activities planned or are in isolation.
It’s All About the Visuals
On that note, use visuals! If you are on the Autistic spectrum, you are probably well aware of what I mean by ‘the visuals’ - all of the visual tools and adaptations we use to help us manage day to day life. From communication cards to disclosure cards. Visuals can help communicate our needs and may be useful if you have Alexithymia. These aids can help do the talking for us - so that we don’t necessarily have to engage or can engage in a different way if we’re distressed.
Recommendations? I’m glad you asked! The following are disclosure cards that I find really helpful. They can help the people around you understand your needs, whether you’re out shopping or have to interact with authorities. Being prepared with the right tools to advocate for yourself can make a big difference!
Curly Hair Project Lanyards & Cards
Disclosure cards on Etsy - the DoodlePeople stocks some great badges here.
Megan Rhiannon also creates pins.
Some UK police forces also have an ID scheme.
Use Sensory Aids
Autistic people are sensory people! And we may be divided into sensory seekers (meaning we look for stimuli) or avoiders. Or, we can also be a mix of those two things! I know I am.
Using sensory aids has the benefit of keeping ourselves regulated - and this is a great way to avoid meltdowns. Have you seen the term sensory diet? Check it out, because following one all year round may have an overall benefit and help make sure you are largely regulated across the board.
Recommendations for sensory aids? Yes!
Indulge in Special Interests
It sounds a little bit obvious, but Betwixmas is a time period where we often have more time. For Autistic people through the year, many of us are forced to live within a culture of correction. We are told often that we are childish or stupid. And some of us mask our most Autistic parts of our personality because of this.
So, use this additional time to indulge in your special interest! Be it collecting lip balms or all things Philip Pullman, Anne Frank or crime and punishment here in the UK, all are valid - and they bring most Autistic people such joy! If Christmas and the holidays is a time for anything, it’s joy.
Do you have anything else to add? How are you going to manage the unstructured time through Betwixmas? Tell me via Instagram!