Guest post: Autism Friendly Holiday Season

Time before holidays and holidays themselves can be stressful time even for neurotypical people. Autistic people feel this stress many times over. Autistic mother Riina Vallin compiled a list of good tips for autist friendly holidays. Each person and family are unique, but if something seems to cause trouble, the root cause is likely to be excessive stress.

·       Avoid stress and expectations that induce anxiety and might hamper executive functioning.

·       You can use a picture book or picture cards to tell about family’s traditions beforehand. Do notice, however, that in addition to anticipating, you need to pay attention to stress regulation.

·       Do not try to affect behavior via Santa or elfs (or other rewards and sanctions)

·       Accept stimming and make sure there are safe spaces where an autist can withddraw if they feel overwhelmed.

·       Be aware of sensory needs of each autistic family member. Do not clutter environment by decorations that cause sensory stress such as blinking lights, or insist that autists wear uncomfortable special occasion clothing. Give an autist an opportunity to participate in decorating and selecting decorations. If someone is sensory seeking compared to others, you can decorate one room just for them.

·       Avoid playing loud music. Avoid playing any music at all when there is a lot going on.

·       Do not force or demand physical touch such as hugs, kisses or shaking hands with guests.

·       Make sure there are safe foods that an autist likes and is able to eat. Do not force them to eat or taste foods they do not want to eat. Different uncomfortable or even intolerable sensory experiences affect everyone’s eating. Do not insist on eating together with others or participate in discussion while eating. Mealtimes cause stress via both individual sensory experiences and sensory stressors coming from one’s surroundings. Forced socializing during meal makes the stress much worse.

·       Avoid or limit number of guests and/or visiting, especially surprise guests and surprise visits. Tell clearly who is coming and when, and do not expect or insist participation in discussion or traditional festivities and activities.

·       Do not insist on participation to games or other group activitis (such as watching movies together). Allow proactive stress management via withddrawing to rest alone or relax in one’s own way.

·       If the person does not like surprises, avoid them. Tell in advance, what gifts an autist is going to receive or get gifts that they have requested.

·       Give a chance to open gifts alone and give time for dealing with emotions and sensations caused by gifts. Accept honest reactions- do not insist on masking or polite dishonesty.

·       Aim at creating a safe and predictable experience so that everyone can have good time. If, in spite of precautions, overloads occur, stay calm, quiet the surroundings and enable de-stressing.

·       Even during holidays, an autistic person wants peace and pleasant social interactions, and an opportunity to manage their stress and avoid overloading.

Kaiao wishes all its clients and business associates peaceful holiday season and a happy new year!