Sunday, December 15, 2013

The holiDAZE with Autism

Making him take pictures- not my best idea


The HoliDAZE and Autism... two things that don't often mix well. The rushing, the loud music, the winter clothes, the crowds,  and new foods can all be a sensory NIGHTMARE for the child with Autism. Meltdowns are more likely to happen during this time of year- and with all of the other things going on it is VERY easy as a parent to get overwhelmed ourselves. So here are some things that we have found helps us out this crazy time of year...and being blessed with a child who has High Functioning Autism, we have it easier than some folks. But these tips can be helpful for ANY child and frazzled parent. So here goes...


1)This time of year is filled with meeting new people and the social stresses of being polite, and thanking people for gifts can put a BIG strain on a kiddo on the spectrum. Social stories are AMAZING helpers - but so is a willingness as parents to be understanding, TRY and limit interactions that involve a lot of new people and settings.  Don't do too much on any one day, if possible- limit things to one event a day. And if at all possible- try to entertain at your house- this gives your child a safe environment where expectations are  understood.


2)Schedules tend to change A LOT this time of year. And as I am sure any parent of an autistic child will tell you, schedules and predictability are VITAL in keeping the peace. Try and keep the daily schedule as close to "normal" as possible. Have a chill out time if you can. Try and include (if and when appropriate) your kiddos in the process. Put events on a calendar just for them- then remind them as time gets closer- it helps to take the mystery out of something new- as they can get ready by watching the count down. Each morning, share that day's schedule with the kids, and only that day's schedule. Don't worry about tomorrow or next week.  Again- SOCIAL STORIES!! Can't say enough about them!

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3)Sensory issues during the holidays - where to begin? New foods, new textures, new sounds....it can be a veritable mine field for a autistic child.  Some things that might help are Keep clothes soft and comfortable,( this is particularly hard for me as I am the "Let's get dressed up" mom). Serve a favorite at meals, or have them eat before. This is a cardinal rule in our house- nothing worse than a hungry kid -ANY kid. Don't force hello's and goodbyes- this is a chaotic time with a lot going on- forcing the issue is NOT in anyone's best interest!  Crowded malls bring out the worst in people- imagine not having the ability to filter all of the noise, touching, lights and loud people- you would meltdown too!! Try and shop without then kid - you will BOTH be better off!  

4) Make sure family and friends are well informed about your child's "quirks". What might be mistaken as obnoxious or rude behavior is more than likely just a part of your autistic child's personality. Seeing the world in black and white can be a blessing and a curse. Especially around the holidays when we might be interacting with people that we don't see often, and who may not always be on our top 10 list. Make sure guests are aware that your kid may need a break- and they are walking away without answering because they feel overwhelmed, not because they are being a brat. Or (especially in our house) the kiddo answering a question or engaging in conversation that is COMPLETELY about dinosaurs- just smile and nod- we will take care of it when it seems to be out of control. Remember, they want to be involved too- but if you ask a lot of questions that is usually a sure way to shut them down. Also- processing time is usually longer, so be patient and wait for your answer!  

5)Find ways that your kid can help to make the holidays their own. Baking, decorating, setting the table, helping with Christmas cards- be as creative as you can. This is an amazing tradition builder as well as making Christmas with Autism a good time for all. 

6) And please don't forget about US. As parents to a kiddo on the spectrum, we spend a great deal of our time keeping schedules, trying to make sure  other siblings aren't losing out on things they like as well, school issues, friend issues,  and the holiDAZE are no exception. We don't get to enjoy holiday functions and family gatherings, probably because we are trying to keep the kiddo on an even keel,so most times we just don't get to go at all. We get a little stressed, overwhelmed and lonely too. Stop by with some of those cookies the whole family got together to make- you know- that fun event we decided not to attend because our ASD kiddo is all over the place, meltdown conditions are high, and the time of evening it is at is NOT the best time for him.  Please don't assume that just because he is older, he is "better." Not how it works. For us- early signs of puberty are starting- so now we have a whole new set of challenges. Everybody is dealing with their own challenges with autism and the holiDAZE- just remember- be patient, and be kind. We really appreciate it. 

So whether it is a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah,  Happy Kwanzaa, Blessed Yule or Merry Jar of Dirt for you- I hope some of these will help.   And please- by all means wish me a Happy/Merry/Blessed  whatever- I promise not to be offended.... I will be happy you took a minute to say something nice to me.