The holidays are coming up, and the pressure is on! There are gifts to purchase and wrap. The house needs to be decorated. People’s feelings need to be accommodated. Bills pile up from cranking the heat. Weight wants to cling to your belly from all those cookies. Visitors come and overstay their welcome. Holiday mail is forgotten. Children have meltdowns. Oh yes, the meltdowns…
Anxiety towards the holidays can be a common issue for anyone. The pressure to perform, compiled with the need for comfort, can push anyone over the edge. However, the positives of the holidays are often the reward for these challenges. If anything, this is time for rest and recuperation. Solid positives include clumsy-with-love handmade presents from children, the excuse to consume extra calories, and time to connect with old friends. Whether we zone out or feel our endorphins elevate (or both), the holidays allow negative thoughts to flush out and good ones to enter. This is a time for rest and renewal. However, for an autistic person, this can be a time of pure torture.
For non-autistics, having free time with a flexible schedule can be freeing. For autistics, it gives feelings of intense anxiety. Imagine the unknown as a huge shapeless blob of time that has no beginning nor ending, nor solid information about expectations. In contrast, things that are established outcomes or feelings for non-autistics will almost take on a titled event for autistics (hence, some words of importance will be “titled” with capital letters in this article). There is no factual evidence of Happiness nor Sadness for this supposed Time that parents tell us, the autistic ones, will give Joy and Cheer. These are abstracts that are not fact-checked nor evidence-based. Give us some scientific journals which outline the effects of Cheer, with solid peer reviews, and we may settle down. Otherwise, these Words that represent feeling are too abstract.
Also imagine a secondary shapeless blob which represents Activity That is in Control by Other People. This Activity will take place over an unknown Time, organized by Whoever is In Charge. We are at the mercy of the ones In Charge, because they decide where we are going, when we are doing it, and whatever it is we are doing. We have no control, except for our behavior (which is often punished or ignored during these times). When we are in distress, we need comfort and understanding (as well as space). The stern looks of disapproval and the ignoring only make our stress levels increase. As our stress levels increase, we will grasp for something we can control. During these social events, you may see us retreat and immerse ourselves in a video game or a phone. If we are pushed to act “appropriately”, then we have even less ability to manage ourselves. Not only do we feel like we are struggling to stay afloat, but we are also pushed to control and act “appropriately”. This can create a meltdown. Too much!
Now do you understand why we, autistic folks, have a desperate NEED for control?
How can you help?
The parent can create schedules. Since schedules often need to be more flexible over the holidays (due to uncontrollable occurrences like a visitor arriving early or late), the child can practice being more flexible with schedules prior to the holidays. The parent can introduce a schedule for days leading up to the event, and practice how to manage when the schedule is off. The child or adult can work for a reward for showing more patience and self-control.
In addition, show us as much information as you are able about the upcoming events. Research the event if possible. This includes asking hosts to send photos of the location of a party, looking up online pictures of a street where a holiday craft fair may occur, or finding a schedule of an event.
Taking us out to events and family gatherings is a wonderful thing to do. It is hard for someone with autism to initiate social outings. You have made it happen and you are a saint in making sure we are included. Everyone needs experiences and memories. It is okay to feel frustration at the challenges of making memories happen during the holidays. Trying to accommodate a person with autism by having schedules and reviewing expectations can help appease anxiety and make for a much calmer and more positive experience for all. In addition, the person with autism may start looking forward to more social events and begin to initiate outings.
While we may never get our peer-reviewed studies on the Abstract Words, we benefit from having some control over the shapeless blobs during the holidays.
Mary Janca is a teacher and coach for students of all learning differences. She has been teaching for twenty years, has a Master’s Degree in Teaching, Behavioral/Emotional Disorders, and is certified in multiple subjects from first grade to high school. She coaches youth and adults with life skills and academics. She is currently working on a client base to serve students in Greensboro and Raleigh. She also works with clients nationally and overseas. You can find her on LinkedIn or send her an email at: email@example.com
Mary has Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. She has faced many struggles in life due to these differences but is proud of her desire to get back up, learn, and keep going. She loves to help others succeed with whatever challenge they are facing.Tags: Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism acceptance, autism anxiety, autism asperger parenting tips, autism behavior, autism communication, autism resources, autism social skills, Autism Spectrum Disorder