It’s that time of year again. When the fragrant smells of holiday baking, the flickering lights of zealous holiday decorators and the anticipation of the big guy’s visit all come together to make for seriously painful sensory reactions from our kids on the autism spectrum.
Sensory-defenders may receive so much input from the holiday assault on their senses that they may need a quiet place to process, or even a total escape from the overwhelming sights, smells and general excitement. You may see aggressive stimming (hand-flapping, rocking, spinning, verbal repetitions), meant to help regulate a nervous system gone off the rails, so to speak.
Sensory-seekers may feed on the sensory onslaught and get further amped by the excitement of the season. They may act aggressively, looking for pressure, or other sensory-regulating motions. You may see aggressive stimming, meant to help regulate a nervous-system gone off the rails. You see how that works?
And to be fair, most kids (and adults) are a complicated combination of both.
So, what can you do to help? Here are three easy steps that’ll help your friends on the spectrum and their righteous families enjoy the season.
Chill Out, Just a Little.
I’m not asking you to stop competing with your neighbors for the best Christmas lights display, and I’m certainly not asking you to put away the the Santa that sings Mele Kalikimaka while twirling in his grass skirt. I’m just asking that you be mindful of the fact that these things can be overwhelming to a population of children and adults that is quickly growing. Perhaps Santa could be switched off for a few hours, or maybe the lights on your tree don’t have to be set to ‘dazzle’ for an evening or two.
Be Ready for Plan B
They and their parents may need an out, a plan b, an escape route, and while they’ve likely planned it out before they’ve even left their door, it is up to you to help them execute it. Maybe they’ve got to leave quickly. You can grab coats, or wrangle siblings and meet them at the door. Maybe, they just need that aforementioned quiet area. Direct them to a room with low-lighting, no sound and complete privacy. Don’t worry, parents generally won’t be shy in telling you exactly what they need. Just be ready to listen.
Don’t Take it Personally
Sure, you’ve spent hours perfecting your place settings. The Christmas crackers are homemade and each contains an item that your guests will adore. You’ve made different dishes for the tastes, allergies, and lifestyles of all your party-goers. You’ve even dimmed the lights, lowered the music and prepared for your sensory-sensitive, food-aversive guest. And he or she, walks through the door, takes one look at your jingle bell earrings and falls apart. Relax, it isn’t you, it’s your stupid earrings. No, seriously, it’s just the combination of everything was too much.
Keep these things in mind this season, and we’ll all have a Happy Holiday.
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)