Holidays and Stress

It’s that time of year again… On one hand, there is endless running around, traffic out the ears, people jammed shoulder to shoulder as they muddle their way through their shopping. On the other hand, there is a feeling of good will, of happiness, of magic in the air. I, for one, choose to focus on the latter. It can be hard to shuffle kids around to all the places we are supposed to be or to all the people we are supposed to see during the holiday season. It gets even harder with a child (or children) on the spectrum.

Here’s the twist – it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Anyone that can’t understand why you might not be attending a crowded, noisy party with your child on the spectrum, they don’t really matter. If they don’t get it, the party wouldn’t have been any fun for you anyway. You can’t force people to understand, you can’t do a whole lot more than explain it a time or twelve. Past that, it isn’t worth the frustration, the guilt, or the meltdowns.

If you have people you want to see during the holiday season, but not so sure you want to pack the kids in the car and go to them? Throw a little party of your own. Invite those people to lunch or dinner.

Do not put guilt on your shoulders, nor allow anyone else to do so, if you choose not to go to a party. If you have friends or relatives that push, that lay the guilt trip on thick, you need to make a choice – what’s more important? that friend or your child?

Here’s the thing we all need to remember – this time of year can be overwhelming for anyone. All the lights, the music, the presents, the loud and usually touchy people everywhere. For a child on the spectrum, especially one with any kind of sensory issues, it can be downright painful. Take the steps to minimize it. Talk with the people who want you to go to them, give them suggestions on what they can do to make it easier for your child. Maybe schedule a time to visit when there aren’t going to be thirty other people there. Maybe keep the lights off or the music down. You know your kids best – you know what will make it easier for them. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

If you do need help during the holiday season, don’t expect people to know what you need. You can’t expect people to know what it’s like, the kind of complications the autism spectrum adds to everyday stressors. Asking people to know when, or even that you need help, is like asking people to be psychic. And don’t be offended if they don’t have time. Time is one of those resources of which there is never enough to do everything you’d like to do – this is true for everyone. Just because someone doesn’t have the time to do all the things you think they should be doing doesn’t mean they don’t care. It simply means they don’t have time.

The magic of this season has nothing to do with toys (though I’m sure my kids would disagree a little bit about that), or trees, or lights, or even parties. It is the unity of the family, the extended family, and friends. The warmth of the hearths we build to gather around. The fullness of our hearts. That fullness includes forgiveness and understanding on all parts.

Even if this Christmas is a hard candy Christmas, as Dolly says, you can’t let sorrow bring you way down. Or stress. Or even that overwhelming sense of solitude that sometimes bashes you over the head. Just take a deep breath, remember all the reasons you are blessed (and I guarantee you there are more than you think), and remember that not only is tomorrow a new day, but every new day that you get to wake up, is one more than some people get. Enjoy yourself – even if it means telling all those people who don’t understand to come back after new years. Take December off – have expectations only for yourself and don’t let anyone add to them. Enjoy your children. Play with them. Sing with them. This time of year is not a time for melodrama or assigning responsibility or laying blame. This is time to find joy in the simple things, to have fun, and maybe make a new tradition or two.

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