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.
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Ron Sandison interviews Dr. Paula Kluth, consultant, author, advocate and independent consultant
What inspired you to study special education in college?
My high school started welcoming students with more complex needs when I was a senior. I approached the teacher to volunteer and work in her classroom and I made my first friends with disabilities. These friends and that teacher really encouraged me to pursue teaching as a profession.
How did you begin working with students who have autism and other disabilities?
Well, my degree was in special education in significant disabilities, but I started working in an inclusive school right away so I taught students with and without disabilities from my first days as a teacher. The child who really taught me the most that year was a little six-year-old named Jay. He had very few reliable ways to communicate, but he was very smart, energetic, and curious. He really got me “hooked” on learning more about autism (which I knew very little about at the time).
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