Friday, December 21, 2012

Autism Holiday Survival Guide

The Dominant Western Culture Winter Holiday Season (tm) which apparently now begins before Thanksgiving is a fun but hectic and difficult time for a lot of people, folks with autism included.
I remember last year, I enjoyed visiting my family out west but found it rather stressful with too many people in a small space and too much going on at once.

Here are some potential coping strategies for clashes between autistic-ness and holiday craziness

Disruption of Routine- For some of us, the biggest problem with holidays is that it's a disruption in routine, even worse when holiday traditions are disrupted. Mentally preparing for the change helps. On this day, X is going to happen. Visual calendars help.
This year, we are going to Aunt Thelma's instead of Grandma's house, OK? You remember Aunt Thelma, right? Don't worry, Grandma will be there too.

Sensory Overload
Shopping Malls = Autistic Hell
Large Holiday Events/Parades etc = Autistic Hell
I know, sometimes little Timmy needs to come along on shopping trips. So go to smaller stores. Order things online. Shop at a different time of year (yah, sure says the woman who often figures out presents at the last minute)  Get it? Lights for some are bothersome- I suspect the blinking lights in particular- for some people they can trigger seizures
Uncomfortable formal clothing- surely you can find something little Sally will wear that doesn't irritate her sensitive skin. Figure out what fabrics work best. Sometimes autistic kids will have The One True Outfit (it goes with the One True Food) that is often very casual and insist on wearing that. Introducing new clothes slowly might help them accept more variety (as with food, activities etc)

 I know several individuals on the spectrum who really get stressed about gift-giving- much of it because of the  social expectations surrounding it. Often we don't have much money and feel like we're supposed to spend more, or just aren't sure what's appropriate to spend- worrying that people may either think you're being cheap or showing off. Make them (not too perishable) food- one year we made salsa, in addition to of course cookies and such. It's fun to try something different that other people won't be giving them. Hmm. It's also pretty easy to make soap. Framed pictures of you & your family (esp. good if it includes them)

Give away or re-mix (fix up, re-paint etc) things you already have that you think someone will like. Remember, re-gifting is ok so long it's outside of the social circle it was given in. Unless it's the big ugly lamp Great-Aunt Thelma gave you that's in the middle of the living room  to make her happy. Wait til she goes senile.

 Talk to Your Relatives/Friends
Help your kith & kin understand you or your loved one before you/him/her runs crying out of the room for unknown reasons. Then hopefully they'll cooperate so that's less likely to happen.

 If you, dear reader have anything to add about what can make holidays more spectrum-friendly, please add in the comments.