Something You Should Know About Autism
Holidays Are Not For Everyone
Thanksgiving and Christmas are such special holidays for most of us! A time when families come together, a time when we make special holiday food, and a time we all sit around the table for a long meal and conversation. It sounds good, right?
Our friends with autism often struggle with holidays. And their struggles can impact a whole event for mom and dad, siblings, and maybe everyone attending. Why do they struggle?
It starts with “something different.” Holidays bring a change to routine. Time off from school or work and when life patterns change, anxiety creeps in.
New people in your home can be hard for someone with autism. Traveling to a new place can also be a trigger. Sometimes the sound of a different voice can be a trigger.
Holiday foods may also be different from our usual meals. Smells and tastes are acute senses, and Aunt Mary’s famous side dish can be offensive to someone with autism. Talk about awkward!
Holidays often culminate in a family conversation around the table or Christmas tree with all the trimmings!! Well, if you aren’t overwhelmed by the smell of the food, the new people at the table, or the change to routine, this setting might just tip our autistic friends over the edge.
So, how can you help make holidays easier?
Prepare – Start the conversations early about Thanksgiving and Christmas. Help someone with autism to know what will happen so they are not caught off guard. A good way to do this is to read a story about what will happen or make a pictorial schedule. Make sure your autistic friend knows who will be present. Show them pictures of relatives or friends they haven’t seen in awhile and tell them a short story about what they like or why they are special. These tips will help set expectations about the day.
Food – Add your autistic guests’ favorite food to the menu and make sure it is prepared the usual way. Don’t expect the holidays to be a time for them to experiment with new tastes or new foods. The tried and true menu will make this day much easier.
Sitting around – Don’t expect your autistic guest to “sit around” over dinner or around the Christmas tree. Tell your guests ahead of time if your autistic family member will be more comfortable in another room. Tell them not to be offended if they don’t participate. Don’t force your loved one with autism to celebrate the same way your family has always had Thanksgiving or Christmas. Something different will be more comfortable for everyone.
Exit plan – Make an exit plan, even if you are still in the same house! Bring the favorite electronics or toys that make someone with autism to feel more relaxed. Let them enjoy their toys and interests. Maybe they will even share them with someone at your event.
When you set expectations with friends and family, you won’t feel pressured for your autistic family member to “act normal” at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Their normal is just perfect!