Beating the winter blues: Tips for people with autism

Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD, or ‘the winter blues’) can take a heavy toll on our mental health during the colder, darker months. For people with autism, in particular, it can be especially difficult to manage.


While no studies have been carried out to connect autism and SAD, many people believe there may be a link between the two. Either way, it’s helpful to know how to spot and manage Seasonal Affective Disorder so that you can enjoy what should be a fun and festive time of year. Keep reading for our tips on beating the winter blues for autistic people.

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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and what are the symptoms?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression related to a change in season. Typically, people present symptoms of SAD during the darker winter months and get better during the summer, but it can also be the other way around.


Common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Persistent low mood
  • Losing interest in things you enjoyed
  • Irritability
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty, or worthless
  • Lacking energy and sleeping lots more than usual
  • Finding it difficult to get up in the morning
  • Craving food (particularly carbohydrates) and gaining weight
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating


Beating the winter blues as an autistic person

Beating the winter blues can be tough, but there are ways to minimise symptoms so you can live each day as normally as possible. For people with autism, these tips can be particularly helpful:


  1. Exercise as regularly as possible

Exercise has been proven time and time again to relieve stress and anxiety, so try to go for a walk or run daily if you can.


  1. Get outside and soak up some sunshine

Though the exact cause of SAD is difficult to pinpoint, doctors believe lack of sunlight during winter is a contributing factor. The days may be short, but make sure to get your daily dose of vitamin D by going outside, or by keeping the curtains open.


  1. Try and take a holiday

It may not be possible for everyone, but if you have the option to go away somewhere closer to the equator, do it. Even just a few days in the sun could really help.


  1. Be around people

Social withdrawal is a symptom of SAD, but don’t let it win. Making an effort to be around the people you love and care about will almost certainly boost your mood.


  1. Try light therapy

Also called phototherapy, light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box to ‘trick’ your brain into working the same way it does in summer. Make sure to speak to a doctor about this first to get their thoughts on whether it will work for you.


  1. Speak to your doctor about antidepressants

If things get really bad, and our other tips aren’t helping, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor – they may recommend that you consider taking antidepressants. These can take several weeks to take effect, but they can help in some cases.

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Helping autistic and non-verbal people to connect with the world around them

Few things make people feel good quite like connecting with others, but without the right tools, autistic and non-verbal people can struggle. App2vox is a completely free app aimed at helping autistic individuals to make themselves heard, via text-to-speech, phrase building, and intuitive icons.

If you’d like to find out more, you can read about how the app works, or register your interest to receive updates. We also have a great bank of helpful resources for you to check out, including articles on autism-friendly holidays, understanding meltdowns, and more.