Tinsel and Tunes – Christmas triggers for those with Autism

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With the approach and count-down of Christmas well on the way, for many people this can mean that senses will be stretched to capacity.

For some with sensory difficulties, this time of year can be a very stressful one. Shopping centres start playing repetitive jingles with regular monotony.  If you like everything neat and orderly, then stars hanging down from the ceiling, draped across aisles and trees and tinsel covering corners and furnishings can also bring confusion.

And if shopping is difficult enough at other times, then the additional people in shopping centres and the excess of children, prams, trolleys, strollers and buggies can make moving in any direction, both difficult and slow.
For people who struggle with autism related sensory overloads, this time of the year can be extremely difficult.  With the additional stress of the demands of Christmas shoppers, nerves become frayed and people become less tolerant.

How to survive, especially through the Christmas season:

Planning and organisation are the keys.

One of the best times to go to the shopping centres is very first thing in the morning.  The next best time is at dinner time, just before the shops close.  If it is necessary to go in the middle of the day, then around times of natural eating can be slightly less congested inside a shop but obviously, more congested around the food courts and toilets.

The next essential consideration, is have a very specific plan of what you need to get when you are out.  If you are unsure, then two small outings can be easier to manage than one long session.  Plan what you need to get and from which stores.  This will avoid your need to walk from one end of the shopping centre to the other and then back again to find your car or transport home.

If you have small children, then have a large bag with emergency supplies.  Often a small child will want a drink or something to eat just as you are trying to finalise your purchase.  A favourite toy just might get you quietly out to a better place to meet their demands.  Avoid handing over your electronic device to a small child, as it can easily be thrown when they are upset.

If your child is scared of Santa Claus, don’t force them to go through the photo session and the long waits.  Take them beside the display and let them watch other people going through the process.  Sometimes children need to see the expectations before they are comfortable.  If you still have a little one who refuses to go through with the photo session despite sitting on your knee or in your arms, then go ahead with the other children and this year’s photo will be part of the memories of you and your child.  Alternatively, you can take a snap and either phot-shop it on, or cut and glue one on.

Remember, Christmas is a time for children, families and people to come together.  These ideals are worthwhile.  Learning about what triggers exist in your life and your family, and then planning ways and means to cope through these, is a real secret to a truly Happy Christmas.

 by Michele Aitchison

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