Holiday Blues

Most of us enjoy the leisure pace of holidays. We look forward to visiting with our extended families and celebrating holiday traditions. But, for a variety of reasons, many of our friends with autism are not looking forward to the upcoming holiday season. Why are they being grinches?

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(1) Lack of routine. One of the core characteristics of autism is the need for a predictable routine. Long holiday weekends, by their very nature, are unstructured. In some households, the days are filled with activity and special events. Other families prefer sleeping late and lounging around all day. Either scenario is difficult for a person who is easily agitated by change and who thrives on knowing what is happening next.

(2) Boredom. Although we may enjoy sitting around for hours on end watching football games or talking to friends and relatives, most individuals with autism find these popular holiday pastimes boring.

(3) Food issues. Traditional holiday foods are loaded with sugar and ingredients that can result in allergic reactions for some individuals with autism. Although we might enjoy the feast, some of our friends with autism struggle with the excess of food and others are agitated because their favorite food is not available.

(4) Sensory issues. Holiday celebrations often involve a swirl of people, activity, sounds, smells, and sights. Many of us enjoy the excitement, but the excess sensory input can simply overwhelm many individuals with autism.

These factors and others can result in agitation, meltdowns, escapes, or other difficult issues for our friends with autism. Extreme reactions or difficult behavior issues can make it seem as if they are scrooges who ruin the holiday celebrations.

TIP FOR THE DAY. It is not necessary to be hermits during the holiday season, but it is certainly in the best interest of everyone if we take some of these factors into consideration when attending celebrations, reunions, parties, and other holiday events so we can help everyone involved relax and enjoy.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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