What might a person with autism tell his or her parents, caregivers and teachers about the holiday season?
I know you are upset with me. I hear you talking to each other about me. You wonder why I seem so ‘off?’ Why do I melt down more often these days? Why am I being so inflexible and ‘non-compliant,’ you ask?
There is a lot going on in my world. I wish I could tell you so that you would understand – and help me.
My house is occupied with new decorations. The blinking lights and shiny things on the tree hurt my eyes. The presents under the tree are not to be opened. I must wait, you say. Your ‘background’ music screams in my ears. Different sights and sounds fill my world – decorations filling spaces and changing the way my house and classroom looks, feels and smells. Everything is loud and unpredictable.
You took me to the mall last night. People everywhere -rushing and pushing. Different music in every store, screechy voices and no time to look at the things I like! I was tired, overheated and overwhelmed. But, we had to ‘get one more thing done.’
Parades and parties make me excited, but, they make me anxious too. People visit our house; voices I have never heard, people hugging me and asking all kinds of questions. It freaks me out. Even the food looks different! Please don’t beg me to ‘take a bite.’ Can I please just have my chicken nuggets?
I am having trouble coping with the different things I see, the sounds I hear and the confusion of the season. All this ‘fun’ wears me out! Nothing is the same and everything is so much – too much for my senses to handle all at once.
Who is staying with me while you go out tonight? Will she know exactly how my evening should unfold? What if she doesn’t read me my story? Where will you be? Are you coming home?
Do I have to go visiting?
What! My TV show is preempted by a Christmas movie?
I cannot take much more!
I get to bed later than normal. I have some trouble falling asleep. My mind races with all the changes and intensity of Christmas! Sometimes, I worry about things when I lay in bed.
In the morning, I feel really pooped. I know that I, “make you late because I am so slow.” I feel your frustration. More than you know. I want to stay home. I want to feel safe.
At school, everything is mixed up. My teacher is away again. My day is packed with assemblies, practices, bake sales and food drives. I never know what will happen next.
Why is the gymnasium not available?
When will it be time for math?
Wait, why we are doing Christmas art instead of science?
Suddenly, my classroom fills with many kids I don’t know. They sing songs, act silly and laugh loudly. My ears hurt. I feel too warm and squished in by all the people.
My teacher says it’s time to go – there is a Christmas play to watch downtown. All the kids seem so excited, but, I just feel worried and drained. I want to enjoy the activities, but, there is so much happening all at once. I want my routine. Why does everything seem different? I think I am drowning in Christmas.
I am sorry if I am not acting ‘myself.’ Nothing feels normal. Please help me.
Could you add some down time to my day? Is there a quiet place for me to do something I enjoy? I need to settle down my body and my mind so I can stay calm and controlled.
It would really help if you could make me a visual schedule (words or pictures will do) of what is happening so I know what to expect. Please give me a visual warning when a change is going to happen. Telling me doesn’t help – your message gets lost in the storm of sounds in my ears.
I need a picture (or written words) of where I am going and what I will do. Show me what choices I can make since I must go with you. I need two or three options please; maybe I can choose where to sit or what to bring with me?
Please don’t forget to bring my, “I can do this bag’ with my items that make me feel safe: my music, headphones, ‘chewellry,’ squishy ball, Buzz Lightyear, some snacks and water.
Tell me how my favorite character, Buzz Lightyear copes when things are too much. Better yet, show me. Write me a story about how Buzz feels at this crazy time of year. Read it to me several times a day. Let me hold the story and look at it when I need it.
Most of all, please be patient, compassionate and gentle with me. I want to ‘be good.’ I am not trying to make you angry or frustrated. I need you to understand because others do not. You are my safe person. I need you to save me from drowning this Christmas.
With love and trust,
A child with autism