Hosting Autism for the Holidays?

December 13, 2011
Chelsea Budde

While I am sure most people with neuro-typical development ("NTs", as they're sometimes referred to in autism circles) look forward to the holiday season, it is not always so readily welcomed by those experiencing the world with autism.  And if you're the host/-ess of this year's festivities and you have a family member with autism who's attending, please keep this seasonal AUTISM acronym in mind ...

A is for anxiety. Anxiety is a real factor in determining behavior for a person with autism. Not knowing where one is going, whether or not and when there will be gifts, and if there will be a place where one can compose one's self with dignity are all fears that may block joy.
U is for uncomfortable. Scratchy formal attire, while handsome for photo opportunities, does not a happy person with tactile-defensiveness make.  Caregivers: lose the shirt, tie, and/or wool sweater and give yourself permission to bring your loved one in his/her comfiest clothing.
T is for tips & tricks.  What's your family member with autism's special interest?  Maybe you could ask his/her caregiver what you could have on-hand in case of "emergency".  Grab some fidget toys from the dollar store (but watch out for the ones that have gel or liquid inside - that can get messy!).  Some people with autism like light-up and/or music-making baubles and others don't.
I is for information.  One of the greatest gifts you can give to the family bringing the person with autism is a good idea of what's going to happen.  What are we eating and when?  Will we open gifts before or after the meal?  Do you have a TV where we can pop a movie in as a distraction in case we're waiting?
S is for sensory overload.  I have always liked the song "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas", but I'm starting to think it's just a terrible reminder of the metallic bells, bright lights, and scented candles that come with the season.  Too much input for the senses will diminish the coping ability for your loved one with autism.
M is for meltdown.  And if that loved one runs out of ways to cope, he or she will indeed have a meltdown.  It's not a tantrum.  Don't punish it.  Understand that it's meant for your understanding of the state he or she is in.  Respect his or her limitations.

What are some ways you've adapted your holiday celebration to be respectful of your family member with autism?

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