Blog #34~ Holiday Stress
The holidays should be a time of joy and celebration. This is not always the case for families of children with special needs, especially autism. The pressures we all experience with the demands of extra shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating and the barrage of company can be daunting. The level of anxiety you have may be tenfold for someone who has autism. We all handle stress in different ways.
“What can I say? Its Christmas and we’re all miserable”……Oh I love that movie Christmas Vacation. 🙂
A few weeks ago in Blog #30~ 7 Senses of the World, I wrote about sensory processing disorder. Taking in the senses in the environment can be both over and underwhelming and Blog #30 showed specific ways to cope. I heard from many of you on what you found aversive along with ways you handle sensory overload. Some of you struggle with crowds and people moving into your personal space. Another was overhead lights. My son Hank and I can’t stand them and use indirect lights as often as we can. Aversion to color and textures was another that my readers expressed. So Ali it’s not just you and green slimy food like olives and artichokes. One of my friends has trouble with any foods that are white (sour cream, cottage cheese, milk, etc….) I learned so much from my readers like how the color orange bothers one along with brown which reminds her of vomit. Isn’t the sensory processing machine fascinating? 🙂
Regarding ways to cope, many readers mentioned using quiet background noise such as soft music or fountains (my favorite) to help to stay calm. Visual and auditory ways to cope were sitting by a fireplace or hearing the waves of the ocean. One of my friends finds that someone brushing her hair is an instant calmer. I know whenever I get to be with my mom, I want her to stroke her fingers through my hair. Tell me how you manage the stress. How do you deal with those quirky sensory issues that come at you….Does anyone else avoid cranberries because it leaches all over the food on the plate? …..That would be Al, Nick’s Dad. 🙂 I want to hear more, message me at email@example.com or leave a comment at the end of this blog.
Let’s look at some ways to navigate the holidays with a child who has autism. It doesn’t mean you can’t partake in activities but you may need to plan better and be prepared to scale back to some degree. Decorations might be overwhelming for some kids. Flashing lights or musical decorations can disturb some children (not Nick, he craves it!) 🙂 Decorating might need to be done in gradual stages. Be sure to allow your child to help out if they can tolerate it. This gives some control when they are losing some from changes in their environment. Going out shopping and other public places can bombard anyone with a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells and ringing bells. Intense stimuli while shopping might be too much. Try to plan a time when the mall and super box stores are not as busy during the week.
Changes in routines can be hard as well. Using behavior supports like social stories and visual schedules can help prepare for complicated days. Be sure to prep your child by including pictures of family members and friends you will be seeing. Provide them a blueprint to follow. Whether written or in picture icon form, it will give them predictability which keeps the stress level down. Regarding gifts, you may need to work ahead of time to teach the concept that gifts are not to be opened. An advent calendar could be a visual cue to countdown until Christmas. This year I just hid the gifts. Nick has tried to open them twice already (I am picking my battles)
Finally, know how much noise and sensory input your child can take. Watch for signs of tension. Nick will put his hands over his ears or pinch his cheeks really hard. Allow them a safe place to decompress that is quiet and away from everyone. This will help to act as a grounding place amongst the turmoil.
Let there be peace, at last….. my sleeping angel, Nick 🙂
If all else fails then take some advice from Clark Griswold’s Dad……
Clark: “Our holidays were such a mess.”
Clark Sr.: “Oh, yeah”
Clark: “How’d you get through it?”
Clark Sr.: “I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels.”
That’s what is in my noggin this week. May you find your own way to deal with the holiday stress and have the “hap, hap, happiest Christmas!” Cheers to all and fingers crossed that the little lights will be twinkling. 🙂