Straight from the Source – 5 Ways to Enjoy the Holiday Season on the Spectrum
I have many wonderful holiday memories like watching Christmas Vacation every year with my parents and brothers, or eating stuffing, mashed potatoes, and turkey covered in gravy on Thanksgiving while watching the Detroit Lions lose to Brett Favre’s Packers. This is a joyful time of year but also stressful – filled with sensory issues, unexpected visitors, and unwanted gifts.
The audio sensation of my brothers’ six children screaming and playing with noisy electronic rodent toys or the olfactory sensation of dirty diapers from the babies – worse yet, the slobbering dog who decides to eat off your plate, licking it clean; the unexpected visit from your uncle who smells of cheap Smoker’s Choice cigars and Mad Dog booze, pouncing on you with a bear hug. Don’t forget the sensory-unfriendly gifts. Your aunt’s handmade, itchy wool sweaters and scarves.
All these things can add stress to your holiday season. I have learned five simple ways to make my holiday more joyful.
Bring fun travel backpack to keep my mind at peace in the midst of sensory chaos: In this backpack, I have books, a notebook, pen, stuffed animal, and earplugs. Reading books helps keep my mind at ease. During the last ten years, I have read over a 1,000 books. I use my notebook and pen to write down ideas that come to mind. Autism causes my mind to over-analyze thoughts with a notebook I can write them down and not be hyper-focused on them. A stuffed animal reminds me of being a child and makes me feel happy, and my earplugs block out unwanted sounds from meddling kids.
Find a place to be alone when I feel overwhelmed by the holiday festivities: At holiday events, I always make sure I have a place I can go when I feel overwhelmed by my environment. When I celebrate Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas at my parents’ house, my refuge from the sensory storms is my old bedroom. In this room, I have over 4,000 books and all my favorite toys like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, GI Joe, and Calico Critters.
Holiday traditions that create a feeling of nostalgia: Nostalgic feelings can involve home and family, but it can also involve a longing for long-gone moments. We on the spectrum love routines and tradition is all about following the patterns of the past. Some holiday traditions we celebrate in our family include: putting up a Christmas tree with our favorite ornaments, watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas on Christmas Eve, and opening gifts early in the morning on Christmas Day. You can develop your own traditions which include your special interest.
Good food for the holiday: As a child, we hated going to a certain aunt’s house on Thanksgiving since she served ham as the main dish rather than turkey. The holiday is always better when you can enjoy your favorite foods with family and friends. Some of my favorite seasonal foods are yams with marshmallows, and turkey stuffing mixed with onion, celery, and apples.
Finally, relax – tis the season to be jolly: Don’t allow your emotions to get worked up. Stay calm; take three deep breaths. We on the spectrum can easily get stressed out thinking of all the things we need to do before the holiday, like cleaning the house, raking fall leaves, or buying Christmas presents. Don’t worry, everything will be alright. Enjoy your family and friends this holiday season.
Ron Sandison works full-time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of the Autism Society Faith Initiative of the Autism Society of America. Sandison has a master’s of divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom and Thought, Choice, Action: Decision-Making that Releases the Holy Spirit’s Power. He has memorized more than 5,000 quotes and over 10,000 scriptures, including 22 complete books of the New Testament.
Ron frequently speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie. You can contact Ron at spectruminclusion.com or by email.
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