Neurodiversity and holidays
Holidays can be really stressful for many of us, and it can be particularly tough for many neurodiverse individuals and their families. It is often expected that holidays should be all about happiness and joy. Still, we don’t talk much about the stress that comes along with gatherings, shopping, travelling, overwhelming settings (too many lights, sounds, multiple conversations overlapping, etc.), meeting relatives, and the list goes on…
When neurodiverse people approach holidays, regardless of their diagnosis (ADHD or ASD), they can feel quite stressed and have a hard time socialising, which is kind of imposed during holiday season because of all the family/friends gatherings.
The overwhelming feeling that comes along with holidays can affect both parents and children. We must remember that many children with neurodiversity also have neurodiverse parents, so both can get stressed out during this season.
One of the main reasons for feeling overwhelmed and stressed is that most of the times we tend to ignore our emotions and feel like something “is wrong” with us as we see the rest is having “a good time”. Accepting our feelings/emotions is the first step to feeling better and acknowledging that it is also ok not to be ok. Reassurance to us adults and our children is crucial during stressful moments; that’s human nature.
So what can we do to make our families’ holidays less stressful and more enjoyable?
At Diverse Diagnostics, we’ve gathered some tips for these holidays:
- Organise ahead:
It is quite helpful to create a schedule, including days off to unwind from all the hectic times holidays can bring. Having a calendar that is accessible to all family members helps a lot to avoid surprises that might be uncomfortable for some. Discuss the calendar as a family ahead and make sure everyone is on board and prioritise traditions that work for all of you. Try to ensure all members’ needs are met while planning the holidays together.
2. Gradual change of setting:
As holidays usually involve new decorations, such as lights and Christmas music, this might be pretty overstimulating for some, and some may struggle with changes. Try to gradually decorate your typical environment so everyone at home can get used to the changes comfortably. Involve your family members in the decoration process; in that way, everyone can give an opinion on what they like and don’t want to have at home.
3. Follow routine as much as possible
Keeping a routine is key in neurodiverse people as it reduces anxiety and meltdowns. With many events going on, some may struggle to have structure. As mentioned in point 1, discussing the calendar ahead will help with keeping a routine and having a daily structure to follow.
4. Limiting events
We are generally used to saying yes to every invitation we receive during holidays, even if we don’t want to because it is believed to be unpolite. We want to let you know that it’s ok to decline invitations when required, we need to prioritise the type of events that we know our family will enjoy and our children will be pleased to attend. When choosing events to attend, try to make sure that it is a neurodivergent-friendly event.
5. Educate your child about holidays and what it involves
Make sure they understand the dynamic among family and friends during gatherings and let them know that they can always try to express their feelings. For example, let them know that they can decline a hug from a family member if they don’t feel comfortable with it. This will limit any surprises for your children, and they will know what to expect from this season in general.
6. Include your children while planning
Please discuss with your child what they want to do. In this way, they feel included in the decision-making and can let you know which kind of activities they would like to include or the ones they don’t want to be part of. Also, you can plan with them that if they start to feel uncomfortable/overwhelmed at any point during an event, you can both have a type of sign to let you know. Planning ahead together will make you and your child feel more confident about attending family/friends’ events.
7. Think ahead
It’s beneficial to consider ahead your or your children’s needs during holidays. Think about possible overwhelming settings, for instance, and how you will make the situation more comfortable; having in mind a quiet place will help with this; this could be a place for you to retreat to if things get uncomfortable. Creating a quiet place can be applied to any place you go, including restaurants, a relative’s house, etc. Try to make sure your child has their favourite toy or item that makes them feel at ease in difficult situations.
8. Establish rules with your family in advance
Not everyone understands how it feels being neurodiverse. Therefore, we can try to explain to our relatives why sometimes our child or we might decline a kiss or a hug, or might not say “thanks” after receiving a present, or might feel overstimulated with all the lights and sounds, among other things. It is ok to explain to our relatives the boundaries that our children or we may have during this season. In this way, you feel you have their support in advance, making you feel more at ease.
These are some tips we can suggest for you to apply during the holidays, but the best advice we can give to you is to tame your expectations of having everything perfect during this season. Try to enjoy and connect with your loved ones without jeopardising your mental health.
We wish you a beautiful holiday 😊