Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Important Lessons to Ensure An Asperger’s Friendly Holiday
Asperger’s and the holidays can present some interesting conundrums. You want your family to be part of the holiday festivities – whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate – but how can you get around your child’s sensory needs and need for order and routine? How can you make it work for everybody?
Learning to Advocate – Asperger’s and the holidays
By learning how to advocate for yourself, that’s how. Whether you’re a parent wondering how to make a party sensory-friendly for your child with Asperger’s, or an adult with Asperger’s wondering how to get involved in some holiday fun without going crazy, the answer is the same – advocate for yourself.
What does it mean to advocate for yourself? Well, living with Asperger’s and the holidays present plenty of opportunities to practice. Advocating means making your needs known – in a polite but firm way – and getting creative about finding ways, hopefully with the help of others, to get them met.
Advocate for Yourself or Asperger’s Child during the Holidays
Is there an event you want to attend but you don’t have enough information about it to determine if you think you’ll be able to go? Are you embarrassed to call the hostess or organization and ask so many questions it sounds like the Inquisition? Don’t be. You are getting your needs met. If the organizers didn’t want questions, they shouldn’t have created the event.
Ask questions about when things are happening, what is happening, how many people are attending and so on. People with Asperger’s need details. They can’t walk into a situation without knowing exactly what is supposed to happen. Why should they? It’s such an easy accommodation. Sure, nothing is going to go exactly as planned, but having any kind of plan when dealing with Asperger’s and the holidays helps more than you could ever imagine.
One Woman’s Dilemma with Asperger’s and the Holidays
A woman with Asperger’s was getting tired of doing nothing for Hanukkah every time December rolled around. Everyone would talk about their Christmas parties and their Hanukkah get-togethers, while her calendar remained empty. She was afraid to go out to these places because of the potential chaos that awaited. These places could be smelly, noisy, and there would be people she didn’t know. She couldn’t be sure how long things would last. It was just too much to contemplate.
She Took Action and Solved Her Asperger’s and the Holidays Related Problems
Finally, though, she took action. After having found an event in the newspaper she wanted to go to, sponsored by a Jewish organization and taking place at the city hall, she called the organization to ask questions. She asked if there were any fragrances being used in the air, since she was sensitive to smells. She asked about how long the menorah lighting was scheduled to last. What kind of food would be served afterwards? Would there be menorahs to light, or should people bring their own? She even asked about what kind of floor was in the event room, because of her allergy issues.
Many people would be embarrassed about having to ask so many detailed questions, but this woman had learned to advocate for herself. All of her questions were answered to her satisfaction. She then felt comfortable enough to try going to the event.
Since she had a reasonable idea of what to expect, she was able to mentally prepare and had a great time. In her case, Asperger’s and the Holidays were not mutually exclusive but actually were able to exist together in harmony.
What lessons should you take from this?
Think about what is likely to be important to your child. Ask questions! Or, think about what your needs are and do the same. If the situation does not seem like it will fit your needs, either decide not to go, or see if the host can modify some aspects of the situation to fit your needs – providing a quiet room, not using fragranced products, or so on. Or see if you can bring headphones to reduce noise, special foods for specific dietary needs, and so on.
Teach your child not to be ashamed of their needs. Yes, they’re different from the average bear. But different does not mean less. Different just means different. When their needs are met, what a joy they can be to be around! Teach your kids with Asperger’s to politely but firmly ask for what they need. Asperger’s and the holidays can provide different challenges than you’re used to, but you should look at them as learning opportunities.
How can I teach my child to integrate him or herself into the community better? What tools can I give him to help overcome his sensory challenges in a difficult environment? How can I raise her self-esteem so she isn’t embarrassed when she has to tell her aunt that she’s going upstairs for a break, or when her cousin tries to get her to eat a food she know she has allergies to? These lessons will serve all of you well far beyond just the holidays.
Asperger’s and the Holidays – Holidays Do Not Need to be Traditional
Shame can be a powerful influence over people. Do not fall victim to it. Take a look at your priorities. What is most important to you about the holiday season? Being with family? Certain customs like a Christmas tree or individual family customs?
Do only what makes sense for you and your family, not what is the “traditional” thing to do. If holiday parties are just too overwhelming for your family to manage, then skip them. Or send one child with your spouse and stay home with the child that doesn’t want to go. If you feel like you need to bake a ton of cookies and pastries or cook a ton of food to satisfy your family, try telling them “We’re scaling back this year. Feel free to bring something if you want.”
Tired of apologizing to your visiting family about your child’s quirks? Then don’t. Model acceptance and pride in your child. Tell the guests, “We all enjoy Mary’s company when she is with us, but we also understand that she needs to have a lot of alone time, too. We’re sure you understand” with a look that says if they don’t understand, they know where the door is. Set the tone early for Asperger’s and the holidays and others will be well aware of your expectations for them.
Yes, this may be easier said than done. But take a good, hard look at your beliefs about how the holidays “have” to be done. You’ll eliminate so much stress for everyone in your family if you only keep the customs that work best for you. Maybe choose one “difficult” holiday event to go to instead of saying yes to them all. Either way, cut back. Asperger’s and the holidays often means paving your own way. As Robert Frost once said, “I took the road less travelled, and that has made all the difference.”
Of course, when you do venture out for some holiday fun, make sure your child with Asperger’s is well prepared
Write out the schedule ahead of time. Bring toys, games and books for distraction if needed. Bring appropriate food. Make sure there is a speedy exit path if needed. The usual type of things you probably already do.
This holiday season, make it the season of Asperger’s Advocacy. Advocate for yourself, and advocate for your child. When thinking about Asperger’s and the holidays… make sure you consider your own needs.
And for those who want to see an excellent training video that can help not only parents but those with autism or Asperger’s syndrome, click here.