Arran Linton Smith and penguin, Christmas quote graphic

 

Meet Arran Linton-Smith and his feathered friend! Arran is autistic and lives in Nottinghamshire. He is a keen cyclist and has taken part in our charity's Ride London event several times. He remembers showing up to his first event in a pair of Santa Claus socks! When he isn't posing with penguins, Arran is also an accomplished church bell ringer.

Arran chats to us about about the importance of Christmas, spending time with his family, and the challenges he faces during the festive season.

What is Christmas like at your house? 

Growing up you're conditioned to believe that Christmas is the most wonderful time of year and this creates a lot of expectation that you have to enjoy every moment. Christmas is important to me as I want my family to enjoy this special time. But, like many autistic people, I find the festive period overwhelming. 

Since my diagnosis a few years ago, Christmas has become a lot easier. It taught me a lot about myself and why I've always struggled with Christmas.

When I go back to work in January, I am usually asked, 'Did you enjoy your Christmas?'. My answer is always a lie, because is too difficult to explain why Christmas is a struggle if you are autistic like me. 

Do you have to make changes to a ‘traditional’ Christmas? 

Although I find change difficult, I can manage this if I am control. But this is really difficult at Christmas when there are so many changes taking place, outside of my control. It's sometimes the smallest things, like Christmas decorations in the house as this changes the environment I’m used to. But I recognise that my family like having the decorations, so we have a tree but don’t go too over the top. The other big thing I find difficult it that the things which keep me anchored are removed. This may seem strange, but I have a serious analytical nature and find it difficult when light and jovial media stories replace the usual science, commerce and politics issues. 

How do the challenges you may face at Christmas make you and your family feel?

Arran Linton-Smith wearing a Christmas jumper

At Christmas, the comfortable world around me, with its anchor points, is taken away and replaced with a world that feels like it’s been turned upside down. 

By the time the Christmas holidays start, I’m normally feeling more stressed and tired than normal, as there are a lot of deadlines at work around this time. 

It's Christmas Day that I find most challenging. I love seeing my wider family but tend to struggle when there are lots of people in a confined space for long periods of time, with many conversations going on at once - and pressure to engage with everyone. I find it very hard to filter out the background noise, focus on what's going on and contribute to the light background conversations which are taking place. And this is made even worse by the fact that I'm often already on edge because of the pressure of my normal routine breaking and the pressure of coordinating everything. 

Since my diagnosis a few years ago, Christmas has become a lot easier. It taught me a lot about myself and why I've always struggled with Christmas. But, even more importantly, it's helped my family to understand me and accept my ways of coping.

Now, when it gets too much, everyone is happy for me to take a few minutes away from the celebrations - just to recalibrate myself. This means something like taking the dog for a walk or going for a walk with one of my grandchildren where I can engage with them one-to-one. It's moments like this, with my family, that I appreciate most.

How do you envision a perfect Christmas?

I would love to have a simple Christmas with simpler meal, no decorations at home, no crackers, no silly paper hats, no cards which fall off the wall. But, just as Scrooge discovered, that isn't going to happen and on this occasion it is important to me that my family can enjoy this time together – even if I find this a struggle.

Have you been supported by the National Autistic Society? 

The National Autistic Society helped me immensely since my diagnosis. Particularly helping me to understand who I am.

There is a song, “the most wonderful time of the year”. What would you say Christmas is to you?

Christmas is the most challenging time of the year.

Support us 

A donation to the National Autistic Society this Christmas will help transform the lives of more autistic people and their families.

Donate