The holidays are here! Hooray!
I generally get really excited about the holidays, but sometimes the approach of occasions that should be readily and happily anticipated can cause dread and anxiety.
Having autism, I love living according to routines, and more than living according to routines, I love to be in control.
I used to feel like the holidays flew directly in the face of both of these passions, and yet, I too wanted to have fun and celebrate!
I was frequently asked to join in the festivities and, to some extent, I found great enjoyment in doing so. There came a point; however, where I found that while others were celebrating, I was floundering. Too much of a good thing, for me, is just too much.
The problem was that so many people had demands and expectations and the demands and expectations of each individual person seemed so reasonable that it became hard to say “no.” Taken together, however, those demands weighed too heavily on me.
What have I learned? I can have routines and control at the holidays, too! I LOVE THAT!
How did I regain my routines and control? Just like with everything, I have a process!
Today, I just wanted to take a moment to share with you the process/rules by which I live at the holidays so that I not only survive, but thrive even though I have autism.
I hope this list helps you whether you have autism or whether you have kiddos with autism in tow.
SUGGESTIONS FOR SURVIVING AND THRIVING
DIET If you are on a special diet, stay on it! It can be so tempting to follow others in celebrating via fun food, but I find that I have the most fun when I am healthy and deviating from my diet directly compromises my health and therefore the ability to have fun! Not worth it! Even for Grandma’s cookies! (Well, maybe Grandma’s cookies…NO, not even Grandma’s cookies!)
TRIGGERS Remember your normal triggers for meltdowns, difficulties, anxiety, etc., and avoid them. If you cannot tolerate large crowds, the sounds of others chewing, you get the idea, avoid it! If you do not like it on a normal day, you really won’t like it on a potentially overwhelming day!
BE PREPARED FOR CHANGE Pay attention to notices and emails announcing upcoming changes to your work environment, neighborhood or church so you are not caught off guard. Coming home to a Christmas village can be a surprise.
PRIORITIZE SCHEDULE Sort out the events you need to attend from those you want to attend and then prioritize. Remember, you get to decide where you go and what you do. To be your best at each event you attend only attend events at the time, pace and spacing that you can both manage and enjoy. It sometimes feels good to know there is an event going on and I am NOT there! (Shhh…don’t tell anyone!) By doing this you can compress your life in a way that actually allows you to expand it. (See an example of how I do this in my post, “The Strangest Thing about My Autism.”)
TAKE BREAKS Schedule downtime especially when the spacing of events is close. If you have two events in a day, for example, take a break after the first one before heading to the second, even if you have to leave early or arrive late. A simple word to the host or hostess will suffice to ensure proper etiquette. Better your timing is off than your behavior!
ELIMINATE Have a “to-don’t” list. What are the things that are more than you can handle that are also unnecessary? I stopped sending out Christmas cards, cut back on decorations, and reduced my baking to a minimum years ago. It hurt at first to cut those things out, but I have enjoyed each subsequent year more than ever. You don’t have to choose the same things to cross off your list. Choose the things you can live without, cross them off the to-do list, put them on a “to-don’t” list and move on! You can always put them back on the to-do list later if you have the time, energy and inclination. Having the “to-don’t” list enables you to look back and evaluate whether you like the choices you made and to make changes for the future if you so desire. You own it! Do it your way!
DELEGATE Have a “to-do-by-a-delegate” list. Identify items that HAVE to get done and delegate, give to someone else, the ones you can’t handle. There is no shame in asking for help, and people are often especially helpful around the holidays (unless they have overloaded themselves in which case, you should forward them this list. It is not just for folks with autism!)
PACE YOURSELVES If sharing the holidays as a family, only move at the pace of the most restricted member, or if necessary split up (only to the extent necessary or desirable) to protect those whose limits require. In a society that values elation, celebration, and decoration overachieving stops where damage begins. It’s not fun, when it’s not fun!
ASK FOR HELP If you find yourself in a situation or setting that you can’t handle ask whether something can be changed (music turned down, lights stopped from flashing.) When you are at an event, presumably your host or hostess wants you to be comfortable – don’t be afraid to make reasonable requests. If something is bothering you it may be bothering someone else. Excuse yourself from the event if a reasonable request won’t work or your host/hostess is not accommodating.
YOU ARE ENOUGH Be yourselves! You are enough. Just you!! (For some encouragement, see “What Girls and Women with Autism Want to Hear and Why!“) No comparing! The people who truly love you will be proud of you for living according to your needs and wants and will work to help you not just survive, but thrive!
HAVE FUN Do everything that you need and want to do that you can handle and love every minute of it!
REVIEW If you find that you have done the steps above but are still struggling, go back to the top and do it again. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Is there more that you can cut out? Do you just need a break? Is there a need that has not been met? Did you give up something that you want to put back in?
This is an iterative process which means you can do it again and again until you feel happy and healthy!
MELTDOWNS ARE FOR FONDUE!
I approach the holidays like everything else. Needs first to ensure surviving, wants next to ensure thriving!
This is the way I will work to make the most of the holiday season for myself and my family. I don’t go through this process because I want to, I do it because I have to. A meltdown at the holidays should only occur in the context of a good cheese fondue (or chocolate if you can handle it!), not due to my conscious choices. (See what happens to me when I eat chocolate in my post, “Autism, Chocolate and a Fire-Breathing Dragon.”)
I hope it helps you to not just survive, but to thrive this holiday season!
If you have other strategies you use, please tell us about them in the comments section! The more tools we share, the better!
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Her Autism!!!
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