Getting ready for the Holidays – Autism Parenting Journal
Oh the holidays, what a busy time. From preparing week-long leftover food to shopping for gifts for family and friends, there are many chores and traditions that come into play. There is no doubt that the holiday season can be overwhelming for the average person; Now imagine these feelings 10 times – this is how it feels for a child with learning differences.
I am saying this from my own past experience as someone who has received what appears to be a lifetime of special needs education. I just get to the point and say I went the way. And now, my bellicose parents, I am writing this article as an accomplished 24-year-old and can proudly say that I made it across the system.
With a masters degree in literacy education, I’m here to have the conversation. I am by no means saying that my path is the right one, but I have some useful tips from my experiences as a child who was considered a “special school student”. My goal is to provide your child with a more enjoyable and less overwhelming holiday season. What works for some may not work for others, because I know that children have more differences than similarities across the spectrum. So please follow my advice and adapt it to your child’s specific needs.
Show up early to parties
The first tip I want to share with you is that you and your child show up for a party, vacation, or other gathering before other guests arrive. One of the residual effects of my learning disabilities was my inability to deal with change. To be honest, I’ve struggled with this to this day, but I’ve learned some tools and tricks that will help me become more adaptable.
Five year old Claudia would be overwhelmed and cry when she walked into a room with a large group of people: seeing them all at once was too much to process. I couldn’t accept this type of change so quickly and to be greeted by so many people was overwhelming. My loving parents taught me to be more proactive than reactive, so that’s exactly what they did. My parents made sure we always got to an event early so I could slowly adjust to the people who came to the party one by one. Then it became easier for me to adapt to the changed environment and the gradual increase in the number of people arriving.
I’ve used this tool all my life because it honestly gives me a lot more convenience. For example, even in college I tried to get to class a few minutes early so I could slowly see each student as I entered. Your child will be more comfortable and mentally prepared to come to an event earlier and see the slow transition of people’s arrival.
I also emphasize the importance of avoiding unwelcome surprises that could end up negatively affecting your child. For example, don’t throw a surprise party because your child may be scared of something unexpected. Moral of the story: Arrive early and prepare your child for who and what is coming.
Preparation is key
In addition to arriving early, it is important to prepare your child for surprises during the holiday season. Please allow me to give an example from my childhood to clarify this point. My diagnosis included neurological and sensory problems, as well as delays in auditory processing, some of which I still struggle with today. Apart from that, unknown characters (people in costumes) and loud noises would scare me and make my fear skyrocket. So, every Christmas when my big Italian family went to my grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner and my six-foot-tall uncle disguised himself as Santa Claus and “stomped out of the chimney” and screamed at the top of his head: “HO HO HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS !!! “I called like a baby. That went up to 4th grade.
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The craziest part is that the following year, after my parents sat me down and revealed the Christmas secret, I was still hiding in the basement because his loud voice and character were just too overwhelming for me. It was only when my uncle showed me how to put the Santa Claus suit over his clothes and I saw my uncle transform step by step into a “Santa Claus” that it became easier for me to get used to this festive tradition. I know I could have just walked out of my grandmother’s house every time he came, but I don’t believe in living in fear. I am sharing this fun experience with all of you, to reiterate the main point: Preparation is key. If your child is going home to someone else on a certain occasion and someone is in disguise or there is someone there who is unknown to your child, please let them know in advance.
Also, if the event is taking place at a venue, I suggest that you travel there in advance. Since it is a new environment for your child, they will know what to expect with peace of mind. However, if it is too far to go on a trip, search for the venue online and look at pictures to familiarize your child with the destination so they know what to expect and are more comfortable. While this advice is for the Christmas season, it can also be used for events throughout the year.
Now I realize that not every child like me was crying and having anxiety attacks over surprise birthday parties because their uncle disguised himself in Christmas suits, but many children on the spectrum struggle daily with changing rooms, loud noises, people in costumes, and visiting unfamiliar places – to name just a few. Add in the holiday season and it can be extremely stressful for both you and your child.
Hopefully these are tools you can teach your children and they can use them in everyday life as they age. I say this as someone who has used these tools throughout high school and college and as someone who has also used them as a young adult. This has helped me make a smoother transition into each new chapter of my life.
I believe in you, my warrior parents. Always remember: YOU know your child better than anyone. You know what makes up his learning difficulties and personality traits. Make sure you never confuse the two, trust your gut instinct, prepare and plan accordingly and have a very good holiday season.
This article was published in Issue 113 – The Transition into Adulthood. presented
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