1. The holidays, meant to bring immeasurable joy, are often a challenge for people and families affected by autism. Autistics struggle with disruption to routine and change, and so while your big family dinner that you plan every year or a surprise Santa at the company party may sound great to you, keep in mind that it might be the straw that breaks my back, at least, if I were a camel. If I respond to something in an unexpected way (by screaming, crying, lashing out, getting cranky, and so on), try to remember that the joy of the event is just completely overshadowed by the fact that, to me, it’s just wrong because it’s not expected. Try to build in familiarity and routine into things, such as allowing me to carry a favorite item or by making a favorite food (or, for me, just give me a Diet Coke!).
2. People with autism often have sensory issues. As good as your singing along with the radio might sound to everyone else, it may well make me scream because it’s hurting my ears. The lights, the smells, the textures, the sounds, and the tastes might throw me into a meltdown. Try to keep things toned down. Also, have opportunities available for me to engage in good sensory experiences… squishy toys, heavy blankets or pillows, or even allowing me to monopolize your family pet can work wonders!
3. Getting back to that dinner, please understand that my sensory issues just flat out keep me from eating lot of foods. For me, it’s raw fruits and vegetables and crunchy things… there must be nary an onion or celery bit in my stuffing. Dinners are a huge source of stress for me, because I fear how people to will react to the way I eat. While we’re talking about dinner, keep in mind that I don’t really talk while I eat. One thing at a time is my motto in life, and it carries over to eating. I know you want to socialize, but your best bet is to wait until we’re done chewing… then, I’ll be happy to rattle of facts about Food Network and engage in repetitive speech about my cat with you!
4. I love presents. Well, duh. Of course, right? But please remember that sometimes it’s just a little much for me to process, all those presents and all that joy at one time. I might need to get up and down quite a bit. My sister is fantastic at giving out one present to one person, allowing that person to open, everyone admires, do a bit of chatting, then move on to the next present. This is great for me. Also, when it comes to presents, can you just… get your concepts of age appropriate out of here? My birthday presents included a doll and a Winnie-the-Pooh balloon. I love them. The holidays are about joy, and what better way is there to allow a child with autism to experience joy than to get him a few things that he truly wants, rather than what people think he should want?
5. I know we’ve been over this on my blog, but lest someone missed it, I would greatly prefer that you don’t shower me with hugs and whatnot. In fact, if you touch me and I’m really not expecting it, I’ll scream and swat at you. And you know, I really don’t want to do that. It’s not the concept of a hug that I don’t like… I’m a-okay with that! My body just overreacts to tactile input. In fact, it hurts me, quite a bit. Couple that with my impulse control issues, and, well, you get screaming and swatting, sometimes. I’d feel really bad if I did that to you, so please spare me the guilt and… don’t touch me?
6. My family is awesome. No, really, they are. From Great Big Stepdad (he’s over 6′ tall!) to Itty Bitty Niece (18 m old), I couldn’t hand pick them any better. And yet, anytime there are more than two or three people around, I escape to a nearby room and go on my computer. The problem, at least for me, is that I can’t follow the conversation as it bounces around the room between people. Sometimes the TV is too loud. Sometimes I worry about the baby crying. And so, I need a lot of breaks… in fact, for every ten minutes I’m in the room and engaged, I probably need the rest of the hour to be alone. I know, I know; I’ve known you since I was yay high… but still, when it’s you combined with six other people, I can’t handle it. If I’m doing my own thing, please let me be. If I go upstairs, please don’t follow me. If you let me have my time, I’ll come back as soon as I can.
7. I have limited verbal ability. And so, I will momentarily chatter your ear off about Food Network facts, ask you if my cat is cute, and discuss in more depth than you ever cared to know the upcoming changing to the DSM5. And then, if you stop to ask me a question, I might ignore you. Sometimes I try really, really hard to be social and ask someone a question about themselves, and I think it comes off as either rude, too personal, or what have you. But I’m trying really, really hard! So, please talk to me like I’m as typical as you are. I don’t like to be talked down to or ignored. It takes a lot of effort for me to engage you in conversation, and it’s upsetting when someone is rude and shuts me down because I’m just not good enough.
8. I also have the option of typing my thoughts out to you, but I’m not quite comfortable doing that around anyone but my mom just yet. On the off chance that I do try typing, try to be encouraging, but also don’t make a way huge deal out of it, because then I get embarrassed. I don’t like to field 900 questions about how it works and why I do it. If I’m typing, it’s taken a lot of courage for me to try, and it’s because I really want some typical conversation, and this is the only way I can do it. Talk to me like you’d talk to anyone else. Allow me time to get my thoughts out rather than interrupting my typing. One thought at a time, please.
9. One of the standard traits of autism is that we have “repetitive behaviors.” You might notice that I chew things, flap my hands, play with my fingers, or otherwise do unusual things with my body. Sometimes these behaviors mean that I’m a little bit agitated or anxious, and other times they mean that I’m excited or happy. My face is generally pretty flat and it’s hard to read my emotions that way, but you can tell I’m joyful when my hands flap a little, or you can tell I’m nervous if I keep getting up and down. And the chewing, well, that just never stops and doesn’t mean much of anything!
10. In the case that I do melt down, please don’t try to help! Generally, “help” makes things worse, unless you’re Mom and you know how to handle me. Trying to encourage me, talk me down, or telling me that I’m acting immature will just escalate things, big time! If I get upset, please just get my mom!