How to survive the holidays as an autistic
The holidays are upon us and as an autistic I wanted to share my holiday tips with you people, so you can make it easier on your autistic loved ones.
1. No surprises
We love presents, so that’s not what I mean, but warn us in advance on what we can and cannot expect. Tell us what you are going to prepare (it doesn’t have to be in detail, but as long as we get the broad lines of it, it’s fine). Let us make a list so we know what to expect qua presents, so we don’t get surprised, as most of us hate surprises to which they didn’t get to prepare. It will still be a surprise what you got us from our list, but at least it’s something from our list. Also tell us who is coming to the holiday party, so we know who will be there and we are better prepared to be the best guests we can possibly be. Don’t ever give us surprise clothing, as most of us have sensory issues, which can make us freeze if we wear weird textured sweaters (no christmas sweaters!!!).
2. We will get overstimulated
It is a fact that eventhough we got to prepare because you made sure that we got as little surprise as possible, a lot of people in one room is overwhelming. It can easily become to much. Sound, light, smells,… all can become to much, so don’t be mad at us if we need time to retreat and don’t be angry when we take our tablet and are reading or doing other things to stim. We need this to be able to cope with the whole sensory barrage. I will get mute during some time on christmas, because I am so overstimulated. My girlfriend talks for me and answers questions directed at me.
If you need to travel with your autistic loved one, look at tip one. We really need to prepare for this too.
4. No new things
Try to keep everything as familiar as possible. We, autistics, thrive on controllabilty and predictability. We don’t like changes, so inform us in time when something is going to change. This also ties in with tip number 1. We really, really don’t like surprises in any way. Some of us can cope with a little bit of change, but most can’t.
I am one of those autistics that likes to sit at the head of the table or the least amount of people on either side. I hate being touched while I’m eating and will easily get overwhelmed. Your kid or loved one might be having these issues as well. Make sure you ask what they like and where to sit, so they can become comfortable. I will mostly be the first to take my seat so I can get used to where everybody else is sitting.
The same counts for when we want to buy gifts for you. Give us a list. I am one of those that likes to buy gifts that will be liked in the end. I don’t want my gift to end up on Ebay and like to know if something will be really liked. I have had instances where people told me they were happy with my gift, but I could see that they really didn’t like it. So give me a list in advance and I will see what I can do (also: Tip 1).
7. Your stress = our stress
We pick up on stress very easily and notice when things get tense. Our body reacts to it, and we will probably become overstimulated because of it. We like predictability and when you become stressed for whatever reason, we become stressed as well and might even internalize the mistake or fault, because we might think it’s our fault. Never blame your kid for anything during the holidays that is due to your stress or a reaction to your stress. Let them stim or leave the room to play with their tablet somewhere where it’s less noisy and where they can be alone for a while.
These are tips that I would like to share. I have read pages and pages of tips for autistic kids that I find ableistic at best. Like giving your kid poker chips so he can exchange them for 5 minutes of talking about their favourite gift. Let them talk, let them be happy. Direct their talk. Learn them about appropriateness, but not with poker chips. Giving them pokerchips as an exchange item is infantilizing and ableistic. There are more, but this is the one that stood out.
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