sensory issues

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.
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Straight from the Source – Molly Dann, 2018 Conference Speaker

One of the reasons the Milestones National Autism Conference is unique is its workshops and panels made possible by individuals on the spectrum. One of those individuals in Molly Dann, a 24-year-old self-advocate from Parma who is returning this year to speak about topics relevant to her life and to others in the autism community.

Between planning for her October wedding and being Milestones’ administrative assistant, Molly is also a Good Life Ambassador (GLA) for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, a role that allows her to educate the local community about autism.

Can you talk about the conference workshops you are doing this year?
I am doing a Safety in the Community presentation with GLA and a session about sensory issues. The sensory issues workshop is my first time presenting a session that I came up with.

How would you describe common sensory-processing issues to someone who doesn’t understand the effects they have on individuals with autism?
Sensory issues are one of the most difficult things to deal with for me. It can make a simple trip to the store something I have to recover from. There are times when noises or textures make me want to physically hurt myself. There are a few basic sensory issues many people with autism share, such as loud noises and bright lights bothering them. There are also very specific and individualized sensory issues.

In your session, “Safely in the Community,” you’ll talk about personal experiences you’ve had. What advice would you give to someone on the spectrum experiencing anxiety when traveling or encountering related challenges?
Don’t let the anxiety keep you from accomplishing things. I have horrible anxiety daily and I have to be careful not to let it decide what I want to do. Continue reading →