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How I Survive the Holidays as an Adult on the Autism Spectrum

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Many of my greatest memories are holiday-related. On Christmas of 1982, Santa placed a stuffed prairie dog under our tree — Prairie Pup. My new special interest quickly became prairie dogs and for the next eight years, Prairie Pup and I were inseparable. Until I began middle school and Prairie Pup became the first prairie dog expelled from the Oakland County Schools. The special education teachers informed my parents, “Your son is too old to be carrying a love-worn prairie dog desperately needing Rogaine.”

During the holidays I have experienced meltdowns and stress. When I was 7 years old my Christmas gift was an army outfit equipped with a toy machine gun, walkie-talkies and binoculars. After a few days the trigger on the machine gun broke — my parents did not send it back to the North Pole for repairs, but instead returned it to Sears. The new army set was complete except for one small detail — the binoculars in the new set were a different style, a 1940’s design compared to modern. When I saw the new binoculars in the box — the former one missing — my emotions erupted. I began hitting my head relentlessly, smashing everything in my path like an enraged Tasmanian devil. My meltdown lasted 10 straight hours; it only ceased after my parents went back to Sears and found my original binoculars.

Luckily for my family and friends, I have learned five survival techniques for the holidays.

1.Dress comfortably for holiday events. During the holidays I enjoy wearing my Frosty the Snowman pajamas and Star Wars T-shirts. This clothing helps my sensory issues stay balanced and causes me to feel calm.

2. Be prepared for the environment of holiday events. My dad has severe asthma; if the family hosting an event has a dog or cat, my dad will politely ask them to keep the pet in another room to prevent him from having an asthma attack. I have sensory issues to smoke and won’t attend any holiday event where people will be smoking.

3. Know who to avoid at holiday events. Certain family members can be annoying and rude to those of us on the spectrum. The aunt who has a funky body odor and loves to give you a big hug. The uncle who asks more questions than the Inquisition. These family members can add stress to your holiday.

4. Bring a fun bag that helps relieve anxiety. My fun backpack contains books and toys. When I become bored or overwhelmed by the noise of the nieces and nephews playing, I sneak off and read a book.

5. Always have an escape route. At my parents’ house I have a man cave with over 4,000 books and a Calico Critter collection. When I feel stressed out I hide in my cave. The escape route for you could be going for a walk outside, or a room away from the guests.

These five coping skills can help you relax and be ready for the holiday season.

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Getty image by LElik83.

Originally published: December 18, 2017
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