December 20, 2016
8 Ways You Can Support an Autistic Adult Through the Holidays
- Ask. Don’t assume: Recognize that some or all of the holiday excitement and activities that people typically enjoy may be overwhelming, unpleasant or even painful to an autistic person. Don’t assume I am going to want to participate. (For example, if you invite an autistic person to a restaurant or a party the week of Christmas, this may sound like a scary or overwhelming idea). Don’t assume I won’t want to attend either. Sometimes autistic people appreciate accommodations (like going during non-peak hours, having a copy of the menu in advance or choosing a familiar location that meets specific dietary requirements).
- Don’t be offended: If I don’t participate in an activity or opt to leave a gathering early it’s not personal. As an autistic person I sometimes need extra space or become easily tired and may need time to recover. Especially during the busy holiday season.
- Give me extra time: Many autistic people need extra time to process what you say- Anywhere from 10 seconds to several days depending on the person and the specific question. Recognize that I may not be able to answer your question right away. This can be a big deal when it comes to making commitments for something that costs money like holiday travel or requires planning like hosting a family meal.
- Don’t expect eye contact: Making eye contact can interfere with my ability to listen to what you are saying.
- Choose sensory friendly environments: “Sensory friendly” will vary depending on the individual needs of each person, so don’t forget tip number 1- Ask!
- Some holiday details that may be difficult to handle include:
- Christmas lights, the sound of wrapping paper, noise from crowds and music.
- Perfume, scented candles, potpourri and meals may make it hard for the autistic person to concentrate and sometimes even cause headaches.
- Don’t change plans last minute: Changing even simple plans like meeting time or location can cause significant anxiety and confusion for an autistic person. It’s best whenever possible to stick to the original plan. On those occasions when plans must change it’s best to notify me as soon as possible and follow tip #2. Give me extra time to think about it and respond.
- Tell me specifically: Let me know what gift(s) activities and foods you would like so I don’t have to guess. Also let me know if I say something that offends your or hurts your feelings. I don’t mean to be rude.
- Offer to drive and/or shop for me: For those of us with executive functioning issues, shopping and driving can be overwhelming. Navigating busy stores, interacting with the cashier, worrying about traffic, figuring out parking and finding my car afterwards can leave someone on the spectrum feeling exhausted.