Helen Ellis standing with her friend at a festival

For our final Christmas story, we spoke to Helen Ellis, autistic woman and HR extraordinaire.

Helen was diagnosed with autism aged 21. Today she shares with us her favourite things about Christmas, from mince pies and carols to symbolic satsumas, as well as the challenges she faces in the run up to the big day.

I don’t let myself get excited about Christmas until after Remembrance Sunday as that day deserves to be honoured appropriately. Once I do start the Christmas run-in the first thing I do is watch Die Hard 1and 2!

What is Christmas like at your house?

Busy! It’s my brother’s birthday a few days before Christmas so everything goes on hold for the day while we celebrate that. We all love Christmas as a family, decorating happens the first weekend of December and the entire house becomes a mixture of sparkly and traditional as my fairy lights hangs above my grandma’s crib scene! I still go to as many Saracens rugby matches as I can during the run up to Christmas but will only go to the home games as travelling anywhere by train in December is a nightmare!

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

Most of our Christmas is pretty traditional but we have adapted over the years, we have to have dinner on the table by 12.30pm to suit my grandad’s needs but afterwards I get excused to go have a ‘time out’ nap from all the socialising and sensory input while the rest of the family play endless rounds of cards. I generally re-join them about 4pm to go for a walk outside before tea. I know I’m very fortunate to have loving family around me who understand how I need to cope with things.

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

One of the things I find hardest at Christmas is other people’s stress and distress. I love shopping for gifts, enjoying picking things out for people that I know they will love, and taking time soaking in the atmosphere and decorations out in town, but so many people are rushing around looking upset or angry that it’s hard to cope with sometimes. I get especially emotionally vulnerable around Christmas and struggle to cope with being out in public if I overhear conversations about people not being able to afford things or families having rows about Christmas.

How do you envision a perfect Christmas?

The perfect Christmas for me is built off the perfect Christmas Eve – an evening watching Albert Finney’s Scrooge with peppermint hot chocolate and mince pies before I go upstairs to finish wrapping my presents for the immediate family with Christmas carols playing, I put on the televised Midnight Mass just before 12 and go to bed staring at the symbolic satsuma and walnut my mum gives me every year! Tradition is important to me at Christmas as it feels like one of the few things in my day-to-day life that I can control and I don’t get anxious about.

Have you been supported by the National Autistic Society?

The Too Much Information and Autism Hour campaigns have been amazing at starting to change the public perception of sensory difference. There’s a long way to go around major holidays/events like Christmas and Halloween though.

What word would you use to describe Christmas?

Magical.

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