Holiday Happiness for Neurodivergents – Tips for Allies

Holiday Happiness for Neurodivergents: Practical Tips for Neuro Navigators

By Jolene Stockman

Neuro Navigator: A person who may not have a neurodivergent brain, but loves and empowers someone who does. See also: Unconditional love.

Welcome, Neuro Navigators! You are the absolute legends who love, understand, and empower the neurodivergents in your life. Your support helps us navigate the neurotypical world, find pockets of comfort, and ultimately, make the world better for every kind of brain.

Enter: The holiday season. A time that for many of us, brings anxiety, disruption, and a blizzard of white lies. Suddenly, our safe foods change, our homes buzz with build-up, and there are shiny, scratchy, sensory distractions everywhere. Here are five tips for a more neurodivergent-friendly holiday season.

1. Make the Unknown Known:

Predictability and structure give us something to hold onto in the holiday chaos. Create visual schedules or use social stories that provide a sense of stability within the changing routines. Visual aids can outline each day’s activities, highlight any changes, and help everyone understand and anticipate what’s happening. Give us the information we need to better navigate and enjoy the festivities. Making the unknown known, helps us prepare.

2. Sensory Plans and Kits:

Prepare for worst case scenarios: bright lights, loud music, and crowded spaces. Unwanted gifts, awkward questions, no safe foods. Remember our preferences aren’t whims or nice-to-haves, they are physical, human needs. Sensory sensitivities and overload can literally cause us pain. Acknowledge this. Acknowledge how much you appreciate us being with you, and give us the tools to make it possible. Bring headphones, fidgets, activities, safe foods, anything that supports comfort and reduces anxiety. Create quiet spaces and discreet “I’m over this, I need to go” codes or signals. And when sensory strategies are used, honour them.

3. Pay Attention:

Open and honest communication is key. Autistics will tell you the truth, but can you hear it? Take the time to understand our needs, whether it’s noise levels, lighting, or social interactions. We may not tell you with words, but do our muscles tighten? Eyes dull? Do we move toward or away from certain things, places, people? Neurodivergent communication styles are valid, choose to learn them – because we have no choice about learning yours.

4. Assume Positive Intent:

Always assume a neurodivergent person’s intent is positive (you will almost always be right). If we disappear into a corner or bedroom, we aren’t being “antisocial” “difficult” or “unfriendly” we’re protecting ourselves, recharging, surviving. I promise. Assume we are doing the best we can in every situation. The best we can with the energy we have. As a neuro navigator, your trust in us validates our humanity.

5. Let Go of Normal:

Holiday gatherings are an opportunity to create new traditions that celebrate the people you are now, not to push people we love into uncomfortable or unhappy boxes. Let go of what you’ve been told (and what you believe) holidays are supposed to look like. What’s more important? Doing things “the way they’ve always been done” or being together in ways that honour true, individual joy? Encourage the people around you to be comfortable. Choose happy over normal.

As a neuro navigator, you have incredible privilege and power. Use them to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment. Remember, your love, support, and understanding are the only gifts your loved ones truly want (except for gift vouchers and chocolate, they’re pretty good, too). So, dim the lights, change the channel, buy different clothing, and prepare food carefully. Your efforts make all the difference. Let’s embrace the power of neurodivergent-friendly celebrations and make this holiday season the beginning of traditions that include and celebrate every kind of happy!

Invitation to Neurodivergents:

Many neurodivergents spend holidays alone. If you’re looking to connect with other neurodivergents, or to share space asynchronously, there’s a place for you! I’ll be joining AutCollab for live events over the holiday season, and if you want to come along and share space, stories, or just beautifully awkward silence, come along! I’ll be stoked to see you there! (Or not see you, if you prefer your camera off) Add your contact details []  and you’ll get an invite. You deserve to have a peaceful holiday season, however that looks for you.

You can buy Notes for Neuro Navigators here

Want to share space with neurodivergents over the holidays?
There’s a place for you! Come along to live and asynchronous events in autistic-led spaces. Add your contact details [] and you’ll get an invite.

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