An autistic person’s Christmas: not bah humbug, just bald incomprehension
The festive season can be a minefield of social expectations – for people with autism, being allowed time out might be the greatest gift of all
‘I’m reasonably tolerant of the additional noise, sparkly lights and overload of red and white these days.’ Photograph: Zuma Wire/Rex Shutterstock
Sometime around the beginning of December my colleagues start to speak a foreign language – Christmasese. I can’t help thinking that for those of us who are autistic it should come with a phrase book of ready-made questions and answers. But it doesn’t, so we get through as best we can.
At work it’s the social side of Christmas that proves most challenging; the “let’s all have a merry little Christmas time”. While I’m reasonably tolerant of the additional noise, sparkly lights and overload of red and white these days, there are questions I’ve learned to dread. Top of the list is “Have you got all your presents yet?” I find it hard to explain to people whose Christmas budget may run into thousands that my list looks like this:
1 Turnip (horse)
2 Pig’s Ear (dog)
3 Catnip (neighbour’s cat)
I’ve opted out of the Secret Santa this year for everyone’s benefit.
Ditto the office party – I’m done with skulking in a corner with a glass of wine and a book while others are snogging under the mistletoe. As I don’t do relationships, understand the urge to snog, or particularly care who cops off with whom in the cleaning cupboard, the event tends to be wasted on me. It isn’t so much a case of bah humbug as bald incomprehension.
Another question that requires a cognitive shift from the autistic world to the neurotypical world is: “Will you be spending time with family?” I usually manage an airy “I’ll probably pop over to mum’s for lunch” but the question brings me up short. Family is a double-edged sword, a tricky tightrope walk between social overload and social inclusion. Facing them en masse for Christmas dinner does not fill me with good tidings. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve felt able to cope with a family do at all. This year I will time my stay to two and a half hours precisely before I grab the turkey remnants for the dog and run. Pulling the turkey wishbone with myself back home seems to sum it up.