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Christmas tree educates people about what the festive period is like for those with autism

​Staff and service users from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) are raising awareness of what Christmas can be like for those who have autism, by decorating a Christmas tree. 

NSFT’s Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service has decorated a Christmas tree with information baubles to raise awareness and to help people to consider how difficult the festive period can be for someone with the condition.

The tree is on display in Stowmarket Library as part of the Stowmarket Christmas Tree Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Staff and service users from NSFT created the baubles and shared their stories and experiences.

The decorations include information about some famous faces, including TV presenter Guy Martin, singer Susan Boyle and actor Anthony Hopkins, who all have autism.

The Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service provides autism diagnosis, support and signposting for service users and their families.

Gemma Grace, a volunteer with the Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service Adult Team, who has autism herself wrote a poem entitled ‘Christmas for somebody like me’, which is displayed under the tree for people to read.

It includes the lines: “Me who is on the Autism Spectrum, Spectrum of having to cope with, Noises and smells which overload me, Overloading because the noises are high pitched, And the smells are often overpowering.”

Marcina King, Clinical Team Leader for the Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service, explains how Christmas can be a challenging time for people with the condition, she said: “Things change at Christmas as we decorate our houses, eat different food, have time off work and may see people we don’t see all year.

“This often means routines are disrupted and people with autism can struggle to process this and may feel overwhelmed.

“We can help people with the condition by allowing them to carry on with their normal routines, and giving them time to prepare or recover from social celebrations, if they need to.”

Jane Tipple, Assistant Practitioner for the Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service Youth Team, who organised this project, said: “This is the first year we have been involved with the festival and we wanted to help people understand more about people with autism, who may be part of social groups or in families and how they are affected by seasonal celebrations.

“This is a fun and festive way to display information and start conversations about the condition.”

The Stowmarket Christmas Tree Festival features hundreds of trees decorated by local groups and organisations on display throughout the town centre, which is open to visitors until Saturday, 6 January.

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