Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Managing Holiday Gatherings: Tips for Adults on the Spectrum

Every year I write a post to adults with Asperger’s and autism, about how to manage all the stress of holiday get-togethers. (Last week I did a similar post to parents of kids on the spectrum, because they deal with similar pressures.) And every year I hear the same comments and concerns from people on the spectrum. That all makes sense, because families, friends and coworkers can exert a lot of pressure on you to join in, be a part of the festivities, have fun. But, what’s fun for the crowd may not be fun for you. To balance out all that pressure, I wanted to restate my comments from last year, and the year before.  Here are my tips for how to manage the holiday stresses.

Plan Time for Yourself

If you find yourself getting overloaded, it’s perfectly acceptable to step aside and spend some time alone. Go for a walk, find an empty spare room, or offer the do all the dishes by yourself. Family members may pressure you to join in the “fun” but it’s fine to say that you just need a bit of time to yourself.

Choose Your Battles

You’re an adult now. It’s OK if your family doesn’t understand you, or if you can’t convince them that you’re right. Agree to disagree. Some battles are just not worth the emotional energy. No one has to get all their needs met by their family, friends can offer support and understanding you can’t get from some of your family members.

If It’s Too Much, Go Home Early

Again, you’re not required to stay with the family on holidays. It’s your job as an adult to take care of yourself. Come late and leave early if that’s the best way for you to take care of yourself. You can even choose to stay in a hotel, and just come over during the day.

Look for the Bright Spots

Try to find an activity that’s enjoyable. If the long family conversation is too much, go sit at the kids’ table and be the fun adult. Or, pull out old pictures and reminisce with your sibling about funny childhood times. An older relative may have a lot of interesting memories about their youth and family and this can be a more low pressure way to connect.

Try Giving

Sometimes the best way to manage when you’re not getting what you want is to shift focus on to more positive areas. Think about all the things you’re grateful for this year. Look around and see what you can do to help out.

Above all, remember that as an adult it’s your right and responsibility to take care of yourself. Do what you need to to feel good about this holiday.

Still getting pressured? Know that you’re not alone. That’s why I post this same advice every year.