Happy New Year to you all! At this time of year, we often start our conversations with “I hope you had a fabulous Christmas break”. I truly hope you all have. However, Christmas can be a tricky period for many people including those without close family, people who suffer from anxiety, have mental health issues or are cognitively diverse. Delivered in a Christmas sack along with the joy of celebrations can come anxiety, confusion and difficulties from the burst in activity and expectations. This can be particularly difficult for people who think or feel differently.
Tips from Sam. Enjoying Christmas with dyslexia
Samantha, Open’s Panel Community Lead for Neurodiversity, shares some of her experience of Christmas and her top tips for someone who is dyslexic.
Over the years we have seen awareness raised about the challenges people on the autism spectrum can face at Christmas time. There are some good tips shared online such as from autism.org to make it easier and less stressful.
As a dyslexic person, this Christmas I was once again reminded that as much as I love the opportunities Xmas brings to be creative and make things, there are some real frustrations too. I find planning, money management, shopping, posting items and Christmas Day can all provide some challenges for me. Here are some of my tips to make it easier. Hopefully they help make someone else have a Christmas that is more fun and less stressful.
Christmas is not a moveable date/deadline. It requires a huge amount of organisation and planning which is something I can find difficult. I personally find a “to do” list, a diary and apps with good visual elements like Trello where I can easily colour, prioritise and move around tasks all really help with this.
As we all know, often Christmas is an expensive time of year. Budgeting is required to ensure that you don’t overspend and regret it in January.
Once again there are a number of apps out there that can help with this. Good budget is my favourite and I use it all year around not just at Christmas. Another option is writing a simple list with a maximum price per present set down before hitting the shops. The list should add up to less that your total budget and still leave enough spare for a few unexpected presents you may need to get later. Food and drink for celebrations at home, meals and drinks out and travel should also be thought of and budgeted for. They all may be more than your usual monthly amounts for these.
It is much easier sticking to your budget if you consider it all early and make a plan. By the weekend before Christmas if you are feeling pressured to go and find last minute gifts, travel, or special food for the dinner you promised to make, you are likely to pay much more than you want.
There are two ways to complete your Christmas shopping – online and at the shops. I usually do both.
Physical shops in the high streets and shopping malls have the advantage you can see the items and take them home straight away. However, the downside can be the sensory overload you experience. At this time of year the shops are often busy, with loads of bright lights, crowds and Christmas music all making it hard to think. Then there are the words. Often lots of them. They highlight different products features, offers and information. I have to read them three times to ensure I have read and understood them correctly. As an example a Christmas refund policy annoys me as it is just so many written words to navigate and understand amongst the season greeting messages and product details.
For presents I have not got on the high street, there is the big world wide web! Here I get to avoid the sensory overload of the street or mall. In exchange I get a website with their flashing Christmas imagines which I find very distracting and tiring. For more information about Christmas plugins you can check out Graham’s earlier article on WordPress’ Christmasify. I also get lots of Christmas gift offers popping up that I feel I need to read slowly and carefully.
Once I do find something I want, I often have to create accounts and passwords and endure the pain of checking out on different websites (a whole blog in itself). Also I can’t see the exact colour of items or size so have rely on my visualization skills and tape measure. Maybe I’ll just get vouchers all round next year!
Cards, Parcels and Postage
This is the worst bit of Christmas for me. I hate hate having to write and post stuff. It feels like there are landmines everywhere here with my name on them. Some people tell me they actual enjoy it! That is a complete mystery to me.
Who invented Christmas cards? I can never remember partners, children or pets names. I have actually lost friends from getting their husband’s name wrong in cards (I am truly sorry). Then there is the spelling of names. Big sigh! Even the simplest of names can be spelt different ways, like Clare. Once the card is written, (which due to my poor handwriting no one will be able to read anyway), I have to find the address. I love a Welsh one – it can use all the letters in the alphabet twice!!! In future I think I will make a creative Christmas image post for Facebook. Beside being much better for my stress levels, it is better for the environment too.
I find wrapping parcels fine. Although everyone else’s may be neater, mine are a little more creative. Dyspraxic + sellotape = interesting messy creation! Once again, if I need to send them off I have to do the address and a return label. The pressure of writing neatly with a sharpie on cardboard always gets me stressed before I even start. One year I am going to put all my addresses in my contacts on my computer and neatly print the labels. Postage dates are important to remember too. I am always so busy getting everything done for the big day on the 25th December that I forget I need to actual post everything a week before! Oh well I hope people like their Christmas surprise that gets there in January!
The Xmas day, Party!
Finally we get to the 25th. Now you think you can relax, have a great meal and pop a cracker! Every year I forget the awkwardness of the peer pressure to read out the jokes in the crackers. Reading the tiny text is bad enough, but I also have to remember to pause and not read the punch line with all the concentration on reading. I hate jokes. Every time I try to tell them they come out so typically dyslexic. I can even get them in reverse order with the punch line first. One day I will manage to tell a good joke. Until then I will stick to wit and put my stand up career on hold.
Then in our family, after the meal people like to play popular board games like Scrabble, Boogle , Taboo, Bananagram and count down. For dyslexics like me Pictionary and the wii (bowling particularly) are heaps more fun! After games the last can be the dancing. As a dyspraxic, YMCA is definitely out for me! Finally, exhausted at the end of it all, Christmas is over for another year.
Make it more fun for everyone
Having said all this I do love Christmas. I also know it can be stressful for everyone. But spare a thought for your dyslexic friends and families. Help them out with jokes in the crackers, pick dyslexic friendly games, forgive their cards in January and love their creatively wrapped presents.”
Would you like more?
Please contact us if you are interested in more insights from people with a broad range of access needs, including neuro-diversity. We have a panel of over 350 people who have a stated, specific access need and/or are over 65.