I love art. I mean…I LOVE ART.
So, I have to share this version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
This is how our children feel during the holidays. I’m sure of it.
There is simply too much input during the holidays. Too much for all of us…but for a child on the spectrum it is the holy grail of chaos. The food, the new faces, the smells, the textures, the noise—all input in an ‘unsafe’ space.
Here are some strategies that we have used. For those of you reading this blog who also have children on the spectrum…PLEASE feel free to share your strategies…it’s the only way we get better. One thing may work for us, but not for you. It may work for you, and not us – again with the ‘no one is the same’ business for those of us who live life on the spectrum. Here are our five major strategies for ANY large (but especially with family) gathering…
#1 – Preparation. Our holiday preparation not only includes turkey, stuffing, pie crusts. In fact, our preparation already began. It began last week. Children on the spectrum NEED schedules…and let me tell you, there is nothing like a family gathering to throw a complete wrench in the schedule. Granted, I love these gatherings – but, boy oh boy…they are ridiculously challenging and it takes WORK. WORK to prepare our children. What does this mean?
- Who will be there?
- Sleeping arrangements (if an overnight is anticipated)
- What time will we arrive?
- What time will we leave?
- What will there be to eat?
- What will there be to drink?
- Can he go outside?
- Where his ‘safe place’ will be (see #2 for safe room information)
- What is expected.
Then, we often write these things down, clearly – so he can continue to refer to the list. This helps me do the actual preparation – the list on the refrigerator fields the questions so I can prepare Salted Nutrolls for my cousins. Trust me…not preparing the nutrolls was not a good option one year – so I developed this system. I can simply say, “Check the list Tucker, it’s all there. If something is missing or you have another question let’s add it to the list.” And we do…
#2 – Safe Place. What is a ‘safe place?’ We have taught Tucker (I’m patting myself on the back here) to recognize the signs of overload. Heart racing, brain can’t think, clenching fists…when he senses that he goes to his safe place. This is a previously designated location (location is also on the list above). I learned about 4 years ago to begin ‘clearing’ this spots with the host(ess) of the event. I would simply say, “I need a quiet place for Tucker. He won’t bother anything of yours he just needs a place to go so he can ‘regroup.'” Honestly, I often join him in his safe place, because I sometimes need a break too. Hey…my dad always heads to his shop in the afternoon – maybe he needs a break too!! Here is what we do…
- When he was smaller I had a fun sign “Tucker’s Place” I would put the sign up so people knew it was his spot. Or I chose the spot before anyone else arrived. He liked that because then his spot felt special. As he got older he no longer wanted the sign (obviously he wants to ‘blend in’ more).
- I sit with him in this spot first – so he knows it isn’t a ‘time-out, naughty’ type of spot…but a comforting, resting spot.
- We set out his things, together. A couple of favorite books – a special note here. NOT new books – at least not for him. This spot is comforting…he’s ready the entire Wimpy Kid series at least 10 times. Over and over and over again. These books provide solace…a storyline that he can expect. Something that is familiar. We also include a pencil and notepad for drawing, his Nintendo DS and earbuds. Now we include his phone and an iPad. All of the things that he could use to take a break, to calm, to refocus.
#3 – Sleeping Time. We begin DAYS in advance if we know the schedules are going to get messy. If he is experiencing a lack of sleep…everything will be much worse. It’s difficult to begin with – so about a week before any event we take extra care to know he is getting to sleep on time.
#4 – Talk, talk, and more talk. We talk about the holidays, the events. We reminisce to give him a reference. We talk about what to do if someone isn’t following the rules at a game. We talk about what to do when we get emotional. We talk about trust…and always, always coming to us after always, always just walking away.
#5 – Social stories. When he was younger we created social stories together. What are social stories? Social stories use the child as a character experiencing the thing they are about to experience. It gives them a frame of reference for behavior. Below is a link to an example of a social story. I wouldn’t use this for Tucker because he understood the concept of Thanksgiving…but needed help with all of the ‘stuff’ that comes with it.
How about you? Do you have any other tricks and strategies you use to help your children get through the holidays?
Tomorrow….if you are the host/hostess with the mostess…I’ll have tips for you!