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So I have been told that there will be a Christmas Party happening at my work. I have autism I really do not like this sort of thing.

This is my first ever job and I am really enjoying it. I have been diagnosed with autism but have not told my employer or any of my coworkers. I'm not against telling anybody, but it has never come up and I wouldn't know how to bring it up.

This company really likes to go social things. I have currently made quite an effort to attend most events but, then just had to make an excuse when it has been too much (e.g. too loud, got too late, just too over stimulating).

I currently have no information about what is going to happen at the party.

I asked questions like:

Where are we going?

How many people are going?

When will it start?

What happened last year?

But just got answers like, "we'll just go with the flow", "Nothings been fully planned".

This really isn't enough information for me, and it's making me more and more nervous.

I have no clue whether telling my coworkers I have autism will help the situation. I really don't want to go to something that I have no plan or information for. But I know that it is something that I should make an effort to go to.

Given the difficulties with autism, what coping strategies can I use so that I can go, enjoy myself, and deal with the associated anxiety?

Clarification:

It a small business about 15-20 employees. But I am a aware now that people are bringing plus one's(I don't have anybody to bring). Most of the employees seem to enjoy going all out when it come to social events. I do not enjoying being around drunk people. I will also not be going into work the following Monday as I have taken a holiday.

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    OP, consider narrowing your question down to a specific subject you want help with. Do you want a way to find out if you can attend this party without serious discomfort, or do you want a non-disclosing excuse not to go, or anything in between. As is right now your question is a tad too broad and lacking a single actionable goal for answers to address. – Magisch Nov 11 at 13:24
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    Does the party start during "regular" work hours or is it an entirely after hours event? – Jon P Nov 12 at 3:59
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    Who were you asking these questions? Are they the organiser or, like you, just a regular attendee? – Dukeling Nov 12 at 16:23
108

Friendly neighborhood autist here, so I know how nightmarish "We just go with the flow" can sound.

First change your approach slightly.

Where are we going?

change that to: "Do they have a venue picked out yet?"

How many people are going?

Change to: "Who usually goes?"

When will it start?

For this one, ask someone who you get along with: "How early do you usually go?"

What happened last year?

Change to: "What's it like?"

When asking, make it open ended, and let the person tell you about it. It makes the person you are asking more comfortable. We tend to be like Joe Friday "Just the facts, ma'am" and that can be off-putting.

After you get the information you need, Make your own schedule

hmmm, okay, Bob is going to be there at around 7, so, I will show up at 7:15, so I am sure that I have a friendly face near by. Then, I will leave at 11.

  • Have a plan in place, and also bring along a pair of sunglasses, and some ear-plugs, in case the stimuli are too powerful for you.
  • Learn where the bathroom is. Take breaks if things get too intense.
  • Go outside if you need to recharge.
  • If you take medication for anxiety, make sure you bring it, and take a dose before you go in
  • Limit any consumption of alcohol, you don't want to add that to the mix on your first party at your first job.
  • Don't tell any jokes that are anything but silly. You may want to research "safe for work" jokes.

Edited to add this nugget, as suggested by Borgh

don't be afraid to just say "guys, I'm having fun but I'm done, see you Monday", there will be plenty of people leaving early for many reasons (kids, being old, prior commitments), you don't need to force yourself into a burnout just for the sake of fitting in. And your coworkers will have noticed you are "different" even if you didn't make it explicit so that is a decent implied reason.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user44108 Nov 13 at 8:43
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I'm not autistic (I don't think), but I'm definitely pretty far over on the social-anxiety side of things. I learned over the years to deal with these parties in a few ways:

  1. I always try to go with someone, rather than on my own. Meaning, I walk over with a coworker that I'm comfortable with, and hang around with them. Often, this person tends to be much more social than I - and that's great, because they do a lot of talking and socializing and fill the air time, so to speak, and I can just listen.
  2. I plan in advance the amount of time that I will stay for, and at the beginning that amount was quite short - maybe an hour. Sometimes I have an excuse prepared, sometimes I just head out. The important thing isn't how long you're there for - the important thing is that people see you there at some point. Nobody's going to care (or notice) that you left early if you don't make a big deal about it.
  3. I focus on something that's relevant to me at the party. Oftentimes it's the food. I think about the quality of the food, the variety, criticize it in my head... which does two things for me: one, it gives me something to do with my spare brain cycles, and two, it gives me something that's socially acceptable to talk about if I end up having to talk to someone.

Beyond that, the usual advice - know where the bathroom is, hide out as much as necessary, bring ear plugs or noise-cancelling earphones (the new airPods are great for me this way as nobody needs to know I'm noise cancelling!), and know your limits (and be prepared to change the plan if needed). Think about who you want to see you for sure, and talk to them early on when you have the most energy.

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    I don't understand the AirPods thing - doesn't it just look like you've got headphones in at a social gathering? If I saw that, I wouldn't assume you were noise cancelling, I'd assume you were listening to a podcast – NKCampbell Nov 11 at 21:48
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    I think at this point they’re nearly invisible socially - enough people have then and know that you can just turn them off but leave them in. – Joe Nov 11 at 23:33
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    I agree with @NKCampbell, that's going to come off super rude to have the ear pods in, even I know this ;) and I am so socially inept that I used to read books on dates. – notmySOaccount Nov 12 at 0:58
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    @Joe I wouldn't agree to that. For me they still look like broken wired phones and thus looks ridiculous to me. So for me they are far from invisible and would be really put off if someone's wearing them during a social event. I'd consider this very rude, so rather leave early unnoticed than wearing noise canceling gear of any kind. – Thomas Nov 12 at 12:56
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    Just use normal ear plugs, they better isolate and iff people recognize them they see it’s of hearing protection and not to be rude. – eckes Nov 12 at 21:35
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Full disclosure - I have a mild form of autism, and this is my strategy for social events like this. Yours may be more intense or have different triggers than mine, so adjust your plan to suit your own needs.


Have A Plan To Leave

Office Parties can be a lot of fun, even if social gatherings can be very awkward. Getting to talk to your co-workers in a casual setting and enjoying free food and entertainment can be very rewarding, both in helping you to network and to simply enjoy the time spent.

But, getting overwhelmed by the size of the group or by the intensity of the party can happen very easily - and there's no shame in leaving a party early.

Hopefully for this you have a car, but if not there are always apps like Lyft and Uber to call a ride you need to get home that are relatively cheap.

If anyone asks why you left early, simply explain that the party got 'too intense' for you towards the end. This isn't unusual - even people without autism or social awkwardness need to step away from a party before it concludes.

Definitely Find Out Where It Is Though

The lack of details for the party is concerning though - not knowing where it is, when it is, how long it is or how to leave is a huge concern for someone who may easily be overwhelmed.

Make it clear that you need this information in order to enjoy yourself and to not have anxiety over it - other answers here have gone over how to ask this fairly well already, but be sure to emphasize your need to plan ahead.

2

The accepted answer by Richard gives a good range of strategies which are appropriate to a wide range of situations. You're unlikely to go wrong taking those options.

The one I'm going to suggest is much more specialised, and often it won't be the right fit, but it's worth being aware of since occasionally it can be very effective:

Get inside the process that's causing you uncertainty.

In this particular scenario, that would translate to something like "volunteer to help organise the party".

The advantages of this approach:

  • It gives you far more information about what's going on.
  • You have a lot more opportunity to nudge the planning towards activities/locations that would be enjoyable for you, or at least not actively unpleasant.
  • You may have more options to avoid unpleasant activities ("tragically I can't do the group karaoke as I have Organising Stuff to do")
  • You can participate and be seen as a Team Player without even going to the event.

One way to frame this is "I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it on the night, but can I help with the organisation?"

There are reasons why this might not be a good choice, for instance:

  • Planning/organising can have its own stresses - whether these are better or worse than the alternative depends very much on individual factors.
  • Given that it's only six weeks out from Christmas, options may be limited - things get booked out.
  • The organising team may already be established.

So you'll need to gauge whether this is a viable strategy in this particular case, but it's worth keeping in mind as an option.

-3

Go.

I've been to a couple of company Christmas parties. Besides offering a classy meal free of charge, they were unexpectedly well-worth the effort.

In the first one, there was an unexpected awards ceremony. It would have been less wonderful if I hadn't even shown up.

In the second one, there was an unexpected Christmas gift exchange game. The company funded the gifts, which ranged from around $85 to $400 a piece. There were so many that some people got two of these, from video game systems and other expensive electronic toys to tools for a kitchen (like a nice coffee maker). I walked away with a barbecue grill and three gift cards.

It's not uncommon for a leader to give a brief speech. But this won't be the typical "we need to buckle down and work hard" speech. While that may be mentioned, the overall feel is more likely to be "we did awesome this year... we accomplished a lot... thank you".

The other answers give some good coping strategies if you're not super comfortable with parties. You might love it. You might be bored by some of it. But if you can go, do. You might find someone to chat with and enjoy the time, and/or there might be some other very nice experience that makes it a highlight of the year, definitely worth not skipping out on.

Plan to spend an hour or two. I've sometimes seen these things run late (past midnight), and whenever the first person leaves (sometimes the first few), they get razzed for choosing to leave (no matter how good their excuse is, even if it is a clearly mandatory commitment). But by the next morning, people don't tend to remember who left first, so if you've been there for a while and it doesn't look like anything else is shaping up, just excuse yourself or slip out.

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    This doesn't answer the question. And you don't seem to understand people react different in social interactions. In my case the anxiety wouldn't allow me to enjoy anything you describe above – Juan Carlos Oropeza Nov 12 at 14:53
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    Could you clarify how this relates to the question? the question asks for coping strategies - in relation to autism. – Alex Robinson Nov 12 at 16:52
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    That isn't how autism or anxiety work. You can't trick yourself to think something is good or attractive to make the anxiety disappear. And the question is what coping strategies. GO isn't a strategy, is just ignore the problem – Juan Carlos Oropeza Nov 12 at 20:04
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    This is just really absolutely unhelpful to those of us on the spectrum. OP has already expressed a desire to go. Reasons to go are not coping strategies for the sort of stresses likely to be encountered. – Rob K Nov 12 at 21:55
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    Really useless if not harmful advice if you do not understand how autism and Asperger work. – Czar Nov 13 at 10:56

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