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My 3 Biggest Challenges of the Holiday Season as Someone With Autism

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1. For me, the biggest challenge of the holiday season as someone with autism is the constant need to have so many different conversations with people I haven’t spoken to in forever. Everyone is joined together, and due to not seeing each other for a while, conversations erupt. Sometimes the conversation I am having with someone is not the only conversation that is happening within the vicinity of where I am. This can be overwhelming for me. This challenge makes me so tired. I have to try to focus on the conversation I am in, but I cannot. My batteries are running low, and I am going down. I just wish people understood this. I wish family, friends and even strangers understood this.

It’s extremely hard for me to have conversations with multiple people within a few hours. But not only is that hard, it is also hard and distracting to have a conversation as multiple conversations are happening around me. Think of me as a battery in a smartphone: I am fully charged when I get to the holiday dinner, but I start “dying” pretty quickly. If I don’t take a few minutes alone to recharge, I will be unable to function.

2. For me, the second biggest challenge of the holiday season as someone with autism is usually (but not this year) being in someone else’s home. This year, we had Thanksgiving dinner at our apartment, and I was able to take a few minutes in my bedroom with my cat to calm down my nerves and recharge peacefully. When I am at someone else’s home, I am already on edge as I get there.

If I could suggest to family and friends, give me a few minutes to get situated before anything. Also, if I have questions prior to coming, please answer accordingly. Questions could be: How many people will be there? Is there enough seating? Do I need to bring anything? What will be made for dinner? Drinks?

3. For me, the third biggest challenge of the holiday season as someone with autism is traveling and other demands. All of my biggest challenges relate back to being a battery in a smartphone, but this is why they are big challenges. Too much traveling, driving, rushing and other demands make it hard for me to enjoy the holiday season. This likely goes for everyone, but I find it particularly challenging. The demands of packing and rushing off to both sides of the family, especially with those of us who are in a relationship or married. Which family are we spending it with? How long are we staying? The long drive there and back. So much cleaning if they are coming here. My routine is being butchered, and sometimes that’s all I rely on. Sometimes I try very hard to keep up a routine elsewhere, but when people are around, the social know-how seems to be to do it their way.

Note to self: It’s OK to tell someone I need to take some time alone. It’s OK to say, “Not this holiday season.” It’s OK to plan ahead, even if it is a few months in advance (it can help relieve anxiety).

For those like me or parents of children on the autism spectrum, may I suggest something: Make sure to have coping skills to try to prevent a shutdown. Leave the room, bring headphones, bring a heavy-weighted blanket, music, go take a walk, or keep your time to a limit, stay at home in your environment, don’t force fancy clothes (be comfortable). If you have a condition, disorder, or disability — I feel it’s most important to ensure you are OK to handle the challenges ahead before they begin. I believe this is the only way to ensure a great holiday season. Happy Holidays!

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: November 25, 2016
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