The Social Convention of Holiday Gifts! A Nightmare for Autistic People

Ho, ho, oh, no!

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The holiday season is here! You’re undoubtedly aware of that time of year when gift-giving becomes a burden. A whole season when social etiquette adds the obligation of giving friends, family, your mailman, and anybody you’ve ever met the ideal present to show your gratitude for them and improve their lives,Also See stride autism center

Are you scared yet? Because I am, too!

It is one of the most stressful things that humans have ever created, and especially so for Autistic people. I’m going to repeat myself yet again: giving gifts during the holidays is a burden on Autistics!

We’re already perplexed by a plethora of unwritten, and in some cases, perplexing Neurotypical social customs and requirements.

The holidays only add to the stress since we must decipher hints, social cues, and what an appropriate gift would be on top of understanding what we already know about Neurotypical communication.

Shopping is difficult for an autistic person, so this image is used to show what it’s like. The individual in the picture appears stressed and overwhelmed about providing gifts. She has decision anxiety. It’s difficult to combine autism and commercialism around the holidays.

The woman in this illustration is multiracial, and she appears to be wearing a Santa hat. She’s frustrated, with her hands on her head. A pile of presents is in her arms. Her facial expression is of exaggerated worry.

Let me elaborate.

Is it better to give or not to give? That’s the issue.

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First and foremost, there are certain questions you can’t ask if you’re thinking of giving someone a present, such as whether or not the person you’re giving a gift to plans on giving one back! Even though you have to know, you can’t inquire since others may believe you are implying that they will give you a present when you aren’t.

The truth is that you don’t want to put them on the spot by giving them a present when they didn’t expect it, and then they don’t have one for you! You don’t want them to feel compelled to return your gesture if they can’t, aren’t interested in doing so, or didn’t consider giving you a gift at all.

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Giving a gift might be difficult when one isn’t expecting it, according to this meme. On holidays and autism.

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This image has a Christmas tree in the background. A White man with a beard is handing a present to a Black woman with long braids in front of it. The message bubble says, “Really, you shouldn’t have…” The lady’s face has an uncomfortable but polite smile on it.

Even if the person is okay with giving you a present but forgot to buy one, they will now feel guilty. We Autistics are ashamed because we made them feel that way. All of this is due to our desire to give them a present without knowing whether or not they were receiving one for us. They’ll awkwardly avoid us until after Valentine’s.

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Yes, we do believe this. We’re known for analyzing everything to death.

And, if so, how much?

Consider, for example, the price of the present you intend to purchase for someone. Assume that by some miracle you discovered out that the person you wanted to give a gift to was going to get one for themselves! Wonderful!

Right? Isn’t it true that anxiety is relieved when pressure is avoided?

It’s not the case. It is never that simple for someone with auti-diverse difficulties! This made things much worse. Now we have to figure out how much to spend on a gift for the person we’re exchanging gifts with. Spending too little might be interpreted as if you don’t care. Spending too much makes the other person feel.

This puts us in yet another bind, since we’ve all learned that asking someone how much they intend to spend on you or how much the present was is considered extremely impolite.

But these are not the only difficulties. Even though they’re minor, they add up to a lot of stress. What’s more, this social taboo has a nasty paradox associated with it: if you don’t spend an equal or greater amount on the present you’re giving as the other person did, you’ll be in debt to them!

But you must also remember that it is recommended to give gifts on a regular basis. Otherwise, if you do not compensate for the shortcomings of past gift giving failures, it will reflect badly on you and your company every time a new year comes around.

A question mark is on a red bow, and an exclamation point adorns the image. The price tag has a question mark and an exclamation point on it.

This is why Autistics have so many shutdowns, burnouts, and meltdowns during the holidays. I’ll never understand how Neurotypicals keep their sanity while managing to balance this without pulling out their hair.

Will they like my present?!

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Next in line, following the horrors of holiday gift-giving, is whether or not they will like the present you give them. It’s easy to be nervous about this. Will they love it or quickly trade it for a white elephant item at next year’s office party?

A white woman with a ponytail and a striped shirt is opening a present and appears shocked by what’s inside. “It’s… something,” says a talk bubble.

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We could probably overcome it through logic and analytical thinking if we were prepared to tolerate the pain. We can always try something different next holiday season.

We could also avoid the situation altogether by including a gift receipt in the box. It’s certainly nerve-wracking, but it’s far less so than if you weren’t delighted with the present they gave you! The stress is certainly real!

Let’s assume it’s the most awful present you’ve ever received. Perhaps they gave you a wool coat and have significant sensory processing difficulties. You’re already looking for a way to ruin it on purpose so you don’t have to put up with the maddening itch trap for as long as possible.

The photograph features a person with a forced smile wearing an ugly woolen jumper. The image looks like a terrible snap from the 1980s or 1990s. It says, “Thanks greatly…”

Now that you’ve removed it, there’s no longer any need to flinch when anybody mentions the sweater.

You might even be nominated for an Emmy with your holiday performance! You also give the individual a hug in thanks for giving you hell, disguised as a shirt, while praying nobody saw through your Neurotypical act.

You start by handing out gift bags and asking them to fill them with goodies for their company. Then, when you believe they won’t notice, you frantically go through the present wrapping in search of a gift receipt.

And that is, if you’re lucky enough to do things one-on-one. Otherwise, perhaps no one will realize you’re seeking for a gift receipt so that you can get rid of the sadistic itch tube masquerading as a sweater.

It’s difficult enough to give gifts without adding in autism. Social gatherings for gift-giving and autism are a minefield of festive social awkwardness.

We must also consider the social norm and burden of group gift giving!

It’s a social trap to us Autistics when three or more people get together to share their presents all at once and in front of others.

A stick with a string tied to it is used to prop open a box trap. There’s a present inside.

Now, not only does each of the stress I’ve described so far apply to me, but it has been multiplied by the number of people in my group!

Run! (Stress) ten people ×

We also get to deal with the unpleasant issue of ensuring that everyone in the group receives an equally valuable and attractive present, based on their unique personalities.

Oh, the tension that Autistics experience while attempting to fulfill social holiday expectations! Not to mention that we’re expected to pretend to like any present we open in the group, equally, even if we don’t personally enjoy it! Then there’s the issue of self-preservation.

It’s not always that bad…

Don’t get me wrong! Many Autistics enjoy giving gifts because it’s a method of connecting and communicating our appreciation to others since we struggle to communicate it in conventional, Neurotypical ways at any one moment.

We love giving gifts just because it makes us happy when we make someone else content. Gifts during the holidays may help bridge social divides between different neurotypes.

If it’s the idea that counts, trust us, we’ve overthought it to death.

Remember, when an Autistic gives a gift to someone, it’s not simply about you. They’re also giving up a lot of time and effort! A major portion of our gift-giving efforts is dedicated to us as well.

We set aside time from our grounding interests and venture out of our comfort zones. We abandon our sensory refuges and give up on our survival skills and routines in order to embrace the festive spirit.

Despite the petrifying fear that the holiday season creates, those who may become overwhelmed in a crowd of people flock to shopping malls and brave the holiday gift-buying hordes because we genuinely care about our loved ones.

When it comes to buying for our loved ones, we put on the Neurotypical smile and play the part.

This picture is meant to symbolize autistic masking. The person in the glasses hides their anxiety. In typical autism style, they refuse to make eye contact with the camera or look at it.

A Black person with a low fade and sponge twists is seen wearing novelty glasses that are made of big plastic Christmas trees. They’re looking off to the side, away from the camera. In the background, you can see a holiday scene.

Even if we’re tired, we search for the ideal present that we’ve been thinking about for the last few months as we wind our way around the back aisles of stores in an attempt to avoid and prevent overstimulation—all while trying to discover the ideal present.

We frequently second-guess the gifts we give others, and we lay awake nights wondering if the ones we got would like them. We could return them numerous times because the initial three presents we bought for someone didn’t feel right. It has to be perfect.

When the holiday gift-giving season approaches, many of us shut down, melt down, and burn out as a result of anxiety. The holidays are difficult for Autistics.

Many of us just decide to send and hand out holiday greeting cards, which is more than sufficient. You may never know how much effort we put into being able to do such a simple act of Holiday joy!