How this autism service is keeping this Christmas as normal as possible

Routine is hugely important to autistic people, so too much change can be difficult for them to handle. Our staff at Elmsmead, an autism specialist service in Taunton, have committed to keeping everything as normal as possible this Christmas. Sam and Chris are a married couple who live the service. We asked them about their Christmas plans this year, and how they’ve adapted them without straying too far from routine.

A usual Elmsmead Christmas

“Usually on Christmas Day at Elmsmead, we all gather in the main lounge and staff give us our presents from Santa. We play games, watch Christmas movies, eat chocolate and have some Bucks Fizz. Then, we have a big Christmas meal that is cooked by the staff.” Chris tells us. “We also like to get out and about on Christmas day.” Sam explains. “That’s a big no-no this year, though.”

Adapting Christmas traditions

Family and friends are very important to Chris and Sam. Usually at the beginning of December, they would travel to Berkshire to visit them. “We’d take all the Christmas cards, do some homemade Christmas cooking and give it out to our family.” Chris said. Unfortunately, the couple were unable to do that this year due to safety measures.

Instead, Chris and Sam have been using video calls, texting and letter writing to communicate with their family and friends. “I’ve not long done the Christmas cards, we posted them last week!” Chris laughs. The couple have also written Christmas cards for all the residents and staff at Elmsmead, so that everyone feels included and in the festive spirit!

Usually residents of the service would have family over, or they would go to visit family for Christmas but that will not be the case this year. “This year will be interesting, but we’re just happy to go with the flow.” Chris tells us. Because the residents can’t travel this year, it’ll be the first time that the service is full at Christmas time!

Chris and Sam are trying to keep Christmas as normal as possible this year and stick to all their traditions. They’ll still be able to do a lot of their favourite things like watching Christmas films, listening to their favourite music and having their Christmas yule log for pudding. “Even the staff bring in some tins of chocolate for everyone, for when we watch our Christmas films.”

The positive side to the people we support not being able to go out in the community, is that the service have had extra time and funds to spend on making Christmas extra special! They’ve been able to gather more food, games, decorations and presents for the people we support.

Autistic individuals and coping at Christmas

Christmas can sometimes be difficult for autistic people to manage. Routines may be disrupted, for example, a change in TV scheduling. There can also be sensory overload at Christmas due to food smells, festive lights and furniture being moved to make way for decorations.

Shaji Rajamony(Raj), Specialism Implementer at Voyage Care tells us, “Whilst some autistic people like surprises, others find it difficult to cope with it. So, it is nice to have presents but not surprises. Unpredictability can cause anxiety and lead to distress behaviours.”

Staff at Elmsmead have taken this into consideration and worked hard to keep their Christmas routine as normal as possible. Although some have chosen to decorate for Christmas early this year, Elmsmead have kept things consistent and decorated on Christmas Eve. The service does this every year, as having the decorations up for too long could cause sensory overload for some residents. They’ve also taken extra safety precautions this year due to COVID-19, and have quarantined the decorations before use.

What does Christmas mean to Chris and Sam?

Christmas means more to Chris and Sam than just presents. It’s all about having fun, seeing the decorations and spending time with family and friends. “Family is important to me.” Chris adds. “It’s all about spending time with friends and relatives and having a good time.”

Sam doesn’t have a lot of family, but she says it’s always her and Chris, no matter what the situation. Sam has been living at Elmsmead for a long time, “My first Christmas at Elmsmead was 28 years ago! So, I think we’ll all be pleased when we can all get back on our feet again.”

“I’ve been here for 14 years, and Christmas is very exciting. Elmsmead is the best home we could have Christmas in.” Chris adds.

Although they may have had to adapt their plans slightly by using technology to see family, they’re very excited for another Christmas at Elmsmead, filled with their traditions.

We’re keeping you safe at Voyage Care

Please note: This article is about events that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the safety measures based on government advice during that specific time period. Please be assured that at all times, Voyage Care follows the appropriate COVID-19 safety measures to keep our staff and the people we support safe. To find out more about our COVID-19 safety precautions, please visit our COVID-19 resource area.

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