Holidays are stressful for everyone. Forced family fun (FFF as my mom likes to call it), gift giving/rejecting, and massive coma-inducing dinners… it’s all upon us and guess what? We have a sibling with autism.
If you’re reading this and you don’t have a sibling with autism, here is a run down of some of the events that can add extra sparkle to the holiday cheer:
- Meltdowns! Big ones. It can be triggered by a multitude of things, usually involving screaming, fighting, kicking, rolling on the floor, etc.…
- Persistence to blare the Barney VHS tapes that NEEDED to come to Grandma’s or leaving the house just wasn’t an option.
- Act III: The Escape Artist. Find an open door, maybe even a window, and they’re OUT.
- Bags of food to cook specifically for our wonderful siblings whose diets don’t allow for turkey with gravy or pineapple ham. It’s only because they’re too trendy though – it’s a new diet, kind of hard to explain.
- Speaking of hard to explain, there are always the bold and beautiful family members. One little quirky thing out of our sib’s mouth and it’s on to the final act: ‘twas the night before judgment day.
If you have a sibling with autism, at least one of those scenarios should sound familiar. Of course every child is different in his or her disorder, but the characteristics are known to be the somewhat same amount of challenging. I’ve come to realize that some, even all of these things just aren’t avoidable. I hope to provide some insight on softening the blow, even if only a little bit.
First of all, don’t panic. The less meltdowns there are, the better. There are several ways to combat any of these situations, but the biggest savior is distractions! This works best for things like meltdowns, persistent blaring, and escaping. For example, iPads and other types of technology that can play videos or music with volume control or headphones have been big helps in my family’s life. If wherever you’re going has a TV, DVD player, or computer, even better. But it’s a good idea to have a back up plan like an iPod, portable DVD player, or even a laptop.
Another way to keep behavior at bay is a solid reward system. If your sib knows before hand that they’ll be rewarded for good behavior, the likelihood of a tantrum happening (or at least lasting the minimum amount of time it goes on) is increased. Rewards depend on what your sib likes to do and are different for everyone. My sisters love to go to the mall, so my parents often tell them that we’ll take a trip to the mall if they behave. The most important part of a rewards system is to be able to follow through. When your sib knows that your word is good, their behavior is much more likely to be desirable.
Needing to have your own food options is completely unavoidable in most situations. If your sib is on a specific diet, or is just plain picky, then there is nothing wrong with bringing their own options. Pack a cooler bag with the foods they love and ask if it is OK to use the kitchen at your destination. If it’s a problem, prepare the food before hand. If you’re going to a restaurant, find out in advance if they have options your sib will like. If they don’t, make sure they eat before hand.
Overly forward family members, friends, and even strangers are an unfortunate part of life. The likelihood of someone not approving of your sibs unusual behavior can be pretty high, including their genuine disregard for your feelings. When someone makes a snide comment just know that its not the end of the world – they don’t and probably never will understand what you’re going through. Some may not agree with it, but I’ve had the best luck ignoring it and acting like it never happened. Sometimes all they want is the attention. If it’s an ongoing occurrence, ask to speak to them privately and ask them to be more respectful of your sibling because what they say is hurtful to you. If this doesn’t help, get a parent involved. What they’re doing is inappropriate and should be stopped.
My number one piece of advice when trying to survive a holiday with your sib is not to make a big deal out of it. Go about it like a normal day at home, with a few little tweaks. Family and friends should be understanding, loving, and accepting of whatever your sib brings to the party because guaranteed, they’ll be the life of it!