After a day of rest, I have enough energy to talk about how I dealt with Christmas.
I don’t really have any more tips, other than know your autistic relative.
Christmas Eve was basically spending an evening at my cousin’s place for food, family and fun. The funny thing is, it was almost entirely about vegetable casseroles, almost all of which I like very much. Off topic, it’s funny how I have come to like vegetables as an adult, even after thinking I would never like them as a child. Somehow, trying new things and culinary adventure came to include veggies in adulthood. Sometimes, one just needs to bite the bullet and try it. There’s no shortcuts to that one. We also got games, good family talking and even some quiet times, too. It was great. I was disappointed in one factor, though; I wanted to talk to the parents of an autistic relative of mine. He’s a young boy, but I would like to have a talk with his parents, you know, to provide some perspective. But they were not there. I was not exactly going to grill them or provide lectures, but it helps when you’re not alone in a family, as I have so often felt.
Christmas Day was a little different. We invited a couple who had just gotten together, but the man in the two was a friend, so it was alright. Much of the food was on my shoulders, but it was very easy. We had Prime Rib, steamed vegetables, rice pilaf, rolls and a salad, plus cheesecake for dessert. It’s not easy to screw up Prime Rib. Twenty minutes at a high temperature and then 25 minutes per pound. It was done within three hours, resting included. That was the hardest part of the meal. I mean, rice pilaf is very easy from the boxes, and I’ve done rolls many times for Thanksgiving. So, easy meal, good food, good friends, and an overall nice time. It started to get very cold when the day was done, so we had to get them home early. We had a nice time, with blocks of quiet book ending the day. Could not have asked for more.
What else can I say about Holiday décor and bustle? Here are a few tips I have picked up along the way:
- Keep It Simple. You may have to avoid things like putting up a tree until they can handle it better, or ever, but keep the decorations simple. I know that by looking at my house, you may not see this tip in place, but it is there. We have picked a simple color scheme and stuck to it.
- Tradition, Please. Now, I’m pretty sure that whatever level you have the decorations and bustle at, be sure that all the traditional elements will be noticed. This one is better kept in my arena. All the decorations I have up are tradition – a fancy word for Christmas Routine. We put up the tree, put out the Nativity (we’re Christian), decorate the main areas of the house, and it’s all now routine to me.
- Keep. The. Routine. The Christmas Tradition is all a routine you keep, stretched out over a time span of about a month, depending on your holidays. Now, I’m going to talk about routine a little more, because it’s a comfort for us autistic people. The upset routine is upsetting. To us autistic people, it’s like saying sheep have wool, but it somehow seems to get lost on non-autistic people. It’s like a child who has naps about midday not having his midday nap. We get cranky and upset.
- Have a Refuge Ready. A refuge from all the hustle and bustle is necessary, and has been advocated as a must by autistic advocates since the early days of Temple Grandin. I’m sure my mother finds it weird that I barely talk while we’re in the car going somewhere, even without music. The thing is, it’s a refuge that is portable. Perhaps we autistic people, or our caretakers, need to seek out a refuge for the person, just in case they need to, say, relax the senses for a while.
- Try to Empathize. Yeah, yeah, I know the stereotype. Autistic people aren’t supposed to be able to empathize – that is dead wrong. It’s been my experience that non-autistic people lack the empathy unless they actively practice it. Think about it – imagine you are at a loud concert, in front of a throbbing speaker, and imagine that all the time – you may begin to be able to empathize as to what we go through. I beg of you, try to think of what we go through. We’re trying to communicate it. Listen.
Now, all in all, it was a good day. Unfortunately, it was only my mother and me around the table, but we had all our favorite things for Thanksgiving. It is usually a large spread, and this year is no different.
We had a few setbacks, of course. My mother had the bright idea to put the bird in the oven at six a.m., and though the turkey turned out perfect, it was a bit cold when we ate. (Not too cold, though.) I got a very minor cut on my wrist from a can of water chestnuts, which we put in our dressing, but all in all there was no major setback. We had stupid fluffy rolls, which we like, perfect stuffing, great foods, and a good Thanksgiving altogether. I cooked, we ate, and then we napped. I got a designation of being a great cook. So, it was a great Thanksgiving. How did your Thanksgiving go?
Here comes Thanksgiving. Strangely enough, it’s going to be an easier time than in years past. Funny thing, I actually do the cooking. That alone puts me on a stress level that may be higher than many autistic people – and I said maybe, mind you. The thing is, a person who has done the main Thanksgiving cooking for, say, eight times in their life might be able to recall how it is done. It’s not that bad, considering we’re having a quiet Thanksgiving Day. However, I’ve been through bustling, huge Thanksgiving Days, too. I’ve got a few last-minute tips to give for the day.
- Setup, setup, setup. This kind of runs into the next tip, but involving some sort of planning and maybe practice is necessary. I am currently sitting next to an empty dish arrangement I made for the dinner setup. I’m in charge of Thanksgiving, but setup and practice may be necessary.
- Have the person get involved, when appropriate. I may have been delayed in some things when it came to social interaction and executive function, but I was fine in other things, like getting the finger veggies out (we always have pickles and olives at our table). Can they handle setting a table for the occasion? Go ahead and let them help out. Someday, you may have someone who can take over more major duties, or even the whole thing altogether. Give it time and patience.
- Have an Chill Out Space. This is not a traditional Safe Space, as marginalized groups prescribe. A Chill Out Space is actually a space away from the festivities the person can escape to, when, say, things get too loud, or, someone decides to discuss politics. It can be as simple as the child’s room. It is simply a place where the person can rest their senses and their interactions.
- The Girl Scouts Are Right. I learned early on that it was customary to give hugs to greet people in my family. I adjusted sooner than many like me. However, I don’t recommend a suffocating hug for someone who is, say, a little more delicate in the touch arena. Don’t push it if the person is not up for it.
- Have a Quiet Moment Immediately Before the Meal. In praying families, this seems to be built into the meal through prayer. A quiet moment helps center not just the autistic person, but most everybody.
- You Know Your Autistic Person….If You Listen and Accept Them. You know how much your child can take of Thanksgiving. If they need to eat in their Chill Out Space, go ahead and let them. It does not matter what your fickle relatives say; have they actually gotten to know the person?
Helping out an autistic person during Thanksgiving requires actually getting to know them, beyond perceived stereotypes, beyond disappointments, and all the way in acceptance. Unfortunately, many autistic persons’ caretakers are often unwilling to get there. This may or may not be the case with you, but acceptance of current reality is required for all these tips to actually work.
How is my Thanksgiving prep going? Pretty good. We have planned the menu and we will be shopping for it soon. You kind of have to do the fresh things, like turkey and fresh vegetables, a week before, so you can get it all properly. I must admit, I need help to do the Thanksgiving dinner the way we had it in the past, but I’ve got that too. I have done a Thanksgiving dinner before – several times. I also have the mind behind the Thanksgiving dinner – my mother.
It’s not all bragging. It’s careful planning and timing, something I still struggle with. We have our traditions for after Thanksgiving, too. It’s called “Staying Home and Putting up Christmas Decorations.” But I digress. There’s not really much to the Thanksgiving thing. To me, it’s mostly being thankful for what you have, and dinner.
I am thankful I have a mother who accepts me the way I am. I have a warm home with love and good furniture. I am thankful I have clothes to wear. I am thankful I can express myself in the blog I have. I am thankful I can clean the clothes I wear whenever I can, thankful for a washer/dryer combo in my house. I am thankful I have a dog that looks at me like I’m the best thing that ever happened. I am thankful that I can say I have basic needs covered. Many people around the world and near me do not have even this.
I’m talking mostly to the American folks, who celebrate Thanksgiving, but you can apply these tricks to any holiday you’re celebrating. Now, admittedly the Halloween talk came a bit late, but I’ve decided to get a jump on the Thanksgiving Attack Plan. And if you’re smart, thanksgiving prep for an autistic person begins November 1. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s the day after Halloween. Maybe if we get some jump on the real autism talk, or my flavor if we get truly real about it, here’s a few tips to consider when getting into Thanksgiving prep with an autistic person:
- Have regular meals at the table. This can be done year-round, and if you do this, your child will know what to expect sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal.
- Accept the child’s autism. This will get a lot easier if you accept that the kid is autistic, and was always autistic, and will always be autistic. I am forty years old, and I am still autistic. And that is a set of traits, not tragic. Get the tragic narrative out of your head. It is possible for your autistic child to have a good, autistic life. Nowadays, I do the Thanksgiving cooking. As far as anyone goes, the cooking on Thanksgiving is no small feat. And I do it my way.
- Thanksgiving decorations, if appropriate. Something that helps me personally is the holiday decorations. It gives me the sense of excitement that I need to propel me into Thanksgiving meal planning, Thanksgiving guest expectations, Thanksgiving celebration, and Thanksgiving rest if needed. However, if this is inappropriate, go ahead and leave this one out.
- Keep the favorite dish of the kid’s on the table. I know, this can be a tough one, especially if the kid will eat nothing except chicken nuggets, or white food, or nothing spicy, or what have you. But it will give the kid a sense of security and acceptance , making them feel like a part of the family. For me, that Thanksgiving food was a cherry walnut salad. I know, it’s a little adventurous, but if the favorite food is kept on the table, they’ll feel more like part of the family.
- Don’t take it personally if they only eat the favorite food. It is not an affront to you if they do not eat the turkey, or the cranberry, or the green bean casserole. Often, it is a sensory issue with the food. It may be too slimy, too saucy, or even too hot or cold. Relax. Here’s a point: If your neurotypical kid was, say, a vegan, would you be able to get them to eat the turkey?
- Have a place for the kid to “chill out” when things get too loud. I get it-I’m dating myself when I say “chill out.” You may not need it, but sometimes, a kid needs to chill out. For the autistic kid, that may be sooner and more often than most others. And if the kid is headed into a meltdown, wouldn’t it be better to be prepared?
- See if the kid can help in the preparation. This is a sneaky way to get your child prepared and anticipating, instead of dreading, Thanksgiving. Age-appropriate preparation, help and interaction is necessary. I began with setting the table. Then I moved to putting together the pickle and olive tray (separate cartons, relax!). Eventually, it was mixing cold dishes. I then began to hep cooking the ten or so side dishes we still cook. And then, I graduated to the turkey. It’s a natural, gradual process.
- Let the kid stim or rest away, even if you’re sitting down for the meal. Again, this is a meltdown issue. Would you rather have someone sit out and be okay, or a knock-down, drag-out, possibly table-destroying meltdown?
- Don’t pressure the kid about eating everything on the plate. The real beauty of preparing a large meal is that you can eat it all weekend. My family would eat a small amount of food, and eat the rest of it over the weekend. It was great.
I’m going to need some help concerning more tips as to what we as autistics and the ones who love autistics can do. Any more tips?