It is now the heart of the holiday season. Retailers and businesses are revving up the advertising to make everything bigger, brighter and bolder.
This can turn the “most wonderful time of the year” into a living Hell for someone with autism.
Sensitive, autistic eyes are sometimes overwhelmed by the brightness of holiday displays. To contrast with the drabness of winter, holiday displays are usually created with bold, flashy colors and twinkling lights.
Holidays are characterized by heavy smells, such as pine and peppermint, and strong tastes, such as cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Some autistics can be overwhelmed by smells, causing headaches and meltdowns and dislike spice-laden holiday dishes due to sensitive tongues and digestive tracts.
A common holiday practice is to suddenly burst into song. Carolers walk through shopping malls and holiday-themed flash mobs appear out of nowhere.
Displays not only come with loud music, but some autistic ears will pick up the sound of the machinery as well.
Knitted, wool clothing might serve to insulate a person from the cold, but to sensitive autistic skin, it can be like wearing an ant colony.
With all of these factors in place, the autistic person is then expected to socialize at parties, meet relatives and make the agonizing decision whether to say, “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” knowing that either one might cause an excruciating verbal backlash.
This is not to say that an autistic person cannot enjoy the holidays, but that it can be a challenging time.
A little sensitivity in this time of giving and compassion, goes a long way.
It helps to be understanding and flexible with holiday plans. Always have a plan B and an escape route in the event of a meltdown.
High-functioning autistics such as those with Asperger’s syndrome, can gain a reputation for being “grinchy.” It’s not always about not liking the holidays, but rather about being over stimulated by the way they are celebrated.
Don’t assume they don’t want to take part in some way. While we reach out to others with kindness during the holidays, it is also a nice gesture, to reach over to the autistic person next to you.
They might not be able to show it, but it is appreciated.