As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome who enjoys and appreciates the traditional message and values of Christmas, it saddens me to see how pressure and anxiety that has resulted from ever excessive commercialisation has contributed to making Christmas a difficult time for many people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Together with this, the traditional values of Christmas, including goodwill and happiness, have become ever more consumed by desire. Additionally, social isolation that many adults on the autistic experience, especially if they have no immediate family around them or are not close to their family can make one feel excluded from what is supposed to be a joyful time.
Recent trends such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Manic Monday have sadly not only made a mockery of the true meaning of Christmas through exploiting desire regardless of any harm that it can cause including heated arguments of customers competing for sale items leading fights breaking out to the extent that police have had to be called into supermarkets and stalls together with a customer being injured by a falling television set, but they have also extended problems that people with Asperger’s Syndrome can experience including high level anxiety.
Anxiety that a person with Asperger’s Syndrome experiences when entering a crowded shopping centre together with sensory issues can be problematic enough, as well as they can be for people not on the autistic spectrum. But another anxiety-driving force that can be a strain on people with Asperger’s Syndrome at Christmas is the pressure to buy Christmas presents, including anxiety driven by worry of what particular item to buy for a friend or relative or whether they will like what they give them. When becoming constrained by pressure to buy presents, one can become lost with the anxiety that pressure brings that it is the thought that counts with presents and gifts.
Thought that goes into Christmas gifts helps to foster genuine friendships and social relationships, which starts through getting to know someone, a friend or relative, that you gain an appreciation of their likes and interest and they get to know and appreciate yours, knowing what makes each other happy, which can say a lot more about fashionable gift items with high-profile brand names that television and print adverts are forever screaming at us, almost trying to brainwash us, to go out and buy, even if it involves fighting and arguing over it on Black Friday. As well as buy gifts, it appears to me as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome that the commercialisation of Christmas is almost encouraging us to ‘buy’ friends, through’ impressing’ someone at Christmas with the last novelty item. It is well-known that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome not only feel that they have difficulty in forming friendships, but also difficulties in understanding the concept of a friend, including at Christmas where a genuine friend is someone whom you may give to and receive gifts from based on knowing each other rather than being taken advantage of by someone ‘acting’ as a friend for what they can get from you. A person with Asperger’s Syndrome who feels lonely at Christmas and who desires friendships or companionship may well be vulnerable to this.
By reflecting on the values that Christmas is supposed to be about, including generosity, goodwill and happiness, instead of an anxiety-driven frenzy, Christmas can become a time where people with Asperger’s Syndrome can feel included, including their bringing personal happiness values to the meaning of Christmas, which can not only aid their personal development but can also be a time where the creativity that people with Asperger’s Syndrome can be expressed, including in using abilities and interests to make or create Christmas gifts.
|Embroidered Christmas decorations made by Tara Kimberley Torme|
A good friend of mine, Tara Kimberley Torme, who is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, enjoys embroidery, including making embroidered Christmas decorations each year, which I have had the delight or receiving as an early Christmas gift. The personal enjoyment that Tara gains from the activity as well as the therapeutic qualities it appears to have for her gives me plenty of personal happiness as well as her, and I also get much out of appreciating the effort that goes into making such thoughtful gifts. Such joy and appreciation reflects well on others, almost like a gift of self-esteem and happiness of making someone's 'day' on which there isn't a price.
As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, something that I find helpful at Christmas, especially with coping with desire and temptation induced by excess commercialisation, is to simply start by noticing what triggers temptation or feelings of low self-esteem over the Christmas period, so that you can notice what can lead to you becoming constrained by anxiety and depression. This can then allow you to balance triggers by focusing on personal values you may have that make you feel happy generally, not just at Christmas, not least because the traditional values of Christmas, including goodwill and generosity are just as relevant after the Christmas decorations have come down.
Though Christmas is a time when we think about either what we want or what to get for family and friends gift wise, it can also help us to remember what we already may have at Christmas and that one of the best gifts we can give is ourselves, including our time to those who may otherwise experience Christmas isolated or alone. To enable this, it helps to gain an understanding of personal qualities we may have through compassionate understanding, so that we can give the best of ourselves to others at Christmas as well as realise and accept the personal values of others around us where possible, including personal qualities people with Asperger’s Syndrome can bring and where any creative abilities they have can flourish, enabling inclusion, which can be as great a gift as a novelty item.