The Real Reasons Autistic People Are Stressed During the Holiday Season
Holidays are thrilling times for a lot of people, but autistics– even if they love the season– tend to be extra stressed. One grievance I’ve consistently seen from neurotypical/non-autistic parents and partners of autistics is that they struggle with understanding how their autistic loved one handles birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special occasions.
Autistic differences– social, emotional, sensory, and cognitive– impact the way we perceive the world, form values, rank priorities, and interact with loved ones. For example, because of the our brains are structured, we need to know what is happening in advance.
Every autistic person’s sensory profile is unique. Some people festoon their food with salt, hot sauce, vinegar, onions, and slimy and lumpy condiments, and some can only stand the smell, taste, and texture of the most plain of dry crackers. Some don’t notice when they’re hot or cold, and some can’t tolerate two degrees above or below room temperature.
Autistic people generally have the value that faking it and performing is unacceptable, which is already at odds with society. We don’t want you to lie to us to make us feel better, so we’re already worrying because we don’t know when you say things like, “Oh, don’t get me anything,” or “I don’t need anything,” or “Whatever you get me will be fine,” if you really mean that you don’t expect a gift.
Because if we say we don’t want anything, that is literally what we mean.
Consumerism, Greed, and Waste
Greta Thunberg is amazing, but she’s not unique among autistics. Most of us have extremely passionate beliefs that we don’t compromise, and a lot of those include environmental protection, climate science, ending poverty (including our own, for many of us), food scarcity, homelessness, humane treatment of animals, other causes that are deemed “political” to most people.
There’s much overlap in some of these categories. There’s social pressure to waste, to endure sensory overwhelm, to be inauthentic, etc. Conformity goes against the autistic neurology in ways that non-autistic people can’t really understand.
The Hot Take
Your autistic family members, students, partners, friends, and co-workers aren’t just the sum of their sensory or social differences. They’re complicated, thoughtful, social, loving, respectful people who have different needs– and also different priorities and values. Those needs and priorities are not less valid and shouldn’t be treated like an inconvenience.
Practicing holidays like an autistic person might would likely mean letting go of a lot of tradition, but they might also lead to a shift in perspective that leads for deeper, more meaningful holiday interactions that actually validate and solidify relationships.