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.
My kids are the apples of my..eyes, the fruits of my...well, labour, the icing on my cake, the silver lining to my cloudy disposition. I love those two tiny people more than anything and yet...I have my suspicions that they can, on occasion, be complete assholes. I’m not just talking about their indifference to a good night’s sleep or their penchant for toys that make noise. I’m talking about the times they make seriously misguided choices resulting in rude, cruel or just plain ignorant behavior. And this might be hard for you to hear, but I’m guessing your kids might possibly be guilty from time to time, too.
Your kids (and mine) will sometimes lie, cheat and otherwise be less than stellar human beings. I know that when you watch them sleeping they look like perfect angels but trust me, I work with children for a living, after all, and none of them are perfect. Even little N, who told me I was better than a Pokemon, and little G, who said I smelled like Skittles, are not perfect. But, you know what, that’s okay. Just make sure you are aware of it, and deal with it when need be or else those ‘perfect angels’ might grow up thinking their bad behavior is okay.
It’s Probably Not a Reflection of Your Parenting
I don’t know you, so I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure the vast majority of us don’t raise our children to be mean. So, if you suspect your child is dabbling in being a class A jerk, don’t beat yourself up about it. And, if you notice my kids are doing it, kindly let me know. I’ll look at the facts presented with an objective lens (or more likely, a ‘what did she do now? lens) and decide how best to deal with it. You’d be smart to do the same.
It’s Exploratory Behavior (Most of the Time)
Sometimes kids like to try things on for size. Is my kid acting ‘too cool for school’, ‘like a mean girl/boy’ or a total bully? This doesn’t mean my child (or yours) is any of these things, it just means they are exploring their options and it’s up to us to make sure they don’t decide to continue down a bad path. Child-centered media makes being mean look pretty glamourous. Have you ever watched an episode of anything written with girl viewers in mind? It’s an uphill battle for sure, but I’m willing to fight.
You Probably Did it Too
You might remember your childhood as being rosy, but the truth is we all made some poor choices. Can you remember ever being on the wrong side of a teacher? Remember taking a turn in some bullying yourself? Did you ever lie to your parents to get a friend or sibling in trouble? Sure, you did. You most likely didn’t like it, especially if you spent any time on the other end of that kind of behavior, so be aware that your kids might be guilty, at times, too.
That Doesn’t Make it Okay
Just because you don’t teach it, or encourage it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consistently address bad behavior. I’m not talking about whiny, cranky, or defiant kids here. I’d have a second full-time job if I had to address each and every misdemeanor. I’m talking about when our kids hurt others with their words or actions. Teach them it’s not okay, and remember to model what you expect. It’s okay to adore your children, but it’s also important to be aware that it’s our job to take an honest look at how they are behaving and help them make the best choices they can.
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)