How to Survive the Holidays: A Guide for the Neurodiverse

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, or don’t celebrate anything at all, it’s hard to escape the holidays.

While the classic tunes, twinkling lights, & parties are what some look forward to all year, for people with ADHD, Autism, OCD, or another neurodivergence that experiences sensory overload and finds social situations challenging, the holidays can be quite distressing.

In short, while some are in holiday heaven, we, the neurodiverse, are in holiday hell.

For us, the most wonderful time of the year is where:

  • We are pressured to change our schedules & routines to accommodate holiday events
  • We sometimes have to spend time with family members that may have trouble understanding our neurodivergence or who are even outright disrespectful towards our needs
  • For those of us who are sensitive to sound, we are put in more situations than we would like where we become overstimulated by loud Christmas music, Christmas movies, and/or loud chatter at get togethers, sometimes all at the same time
  • Flashing lights are never far & few between, which, for some of us, is a sensory nightmare
  • Finally, the familiar feeling of the social pressure to be/act “normal” is exasperated by the expectation that we must be spreading holiday cheer

While the holidays can be a lot, it doesn’t mean we are all scrooges who hate this time of year. In fact, the idea that we aren’t doing Christmas “right” or that we may be ruining someone else’s time because of our needs, can actually be an added pressure that intensifies the stresses listed above.

While some of us want a hippopotamus for Christmas, we simply want to survive it.

So what can you do to survive the holidays?

We believe preparing, planning, & putting yourself first is a great place to start:

Preparing: come prepared to holiday events with everything you need to feel calm & in control. We recommend putting together a sensory toolkit that you can have on hand to take with you to all holiday events. A great sensory toolkit will sooth all five senses & could include sunglasses or tinted lenses (visual), gum or candy (oral), essential oils or scented lip balm (scent), fidget toys (tactile), and finally earplugs or noise cancelling headphones (auditory). You have a right to comfort.

Planning: scheduling your holidays out in detail can allow you to move the weight of planning off of your mind so that you can better focus on your needs this season. There are a lot of people who believe if you have ADHD or ASD that you cannot plan, but this is untrue. While it can be hard, there has been much evidence to prove that planning, scheduling, & routine building is incredibly important for neurodivergent people. That’s why we at NonToSense have created a planner specifically to meet the particular needs of neurodivergent people. Community built by the neurodiverse, our planners are a great place to start your scheduling for this holiday season. Just don’t forget to plan sometime for yourself, which brings us to our next point! Download yours here.

Putting yourself first: fill your cup before anyone else’s, be patient with yourself, communicate your needs, etc., etc. If you have been on this journey of trying to manage your neurodivergence for a minute, you may have heard all of this before. But what does all of that mean when it comes to the holidays? Saying no to some parties & events when they don’t serve you or leaving early if you need to, giving yourself space to regulate when overstimulated instead of “powering through”, or being honest with friends & family members that you trust about your triggers are all great ways to put yourself first. Be proactive with communicating to save yourself from any future frustrations, blowouts or even meltdowns.

While it may feel impossible to escape the stresses of the season, & while not everything is in our control, there is still plenty we can do to relieve some of the pressure that may weigh down on some of us during this time of year.

Even if we squint & scowl at the flashing lights or plug our ears when we hear the same Christmas song for the 100th time, we know in our heart of hearts that it doesn’t mean we are a Grinch in a world of Who’s. And even if we were, I seem to remember the residents of Whoville accepting the Grinch for who he was at the end of that story…

Thank you for reading and we hope this guide helps you to seize the season.

Happy Holidays,

The N2S Team

Averie, Leandra, & Marcio

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