Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | December 27, 2011

An Autistic’s Holiday Survival Guide: Part 3 – Hosting

This is the 3rd and final* post about how I survive the holidays (read part 1 and part 2 here), and it touches on what, for me, is one of the most difficult parts: when my mother hosts a party. This post is less full of helpful little coping mechanisms I’ve developed, and more of a rant about my least favorite aspect of the holiday season – last year, my mother’s party had me in my closet, rocking uncontrollably. And that was WITH the coping mechanisms described here.

My mother always hosts at least one big party each year, and in some ways they are worse than the ones I have to go to, since I’m “on display”. There’s no place to hide, and everyone attending thinks they know everything about you. Often you have to sit through tens of relatives, neighbors and “friends” corner you and talk at you. For me, these situations are the worst ones, because the instant I’m cornered, I lose my words. Sometimes I can get out 1-2 word answers, other times I spend the whole day before the party starts rehearsing sentences to respond to people. Last year, I was cornered by a neighbor who spent the better part of 10 minutes telling me I was abnormal and bad because I was graduating college early and I didn’t party, and that she was going to have to tell my mother and everyone else at the party what a horrible, deficient person I was. And the worst part of these parties? I can’t leave. And there’s no safe space to hide.

Instead, I have learned to hide in plain sight. I spend the entire time in the kitchen, cleaning dishes, making sure the food is out and ready to be eaten, refilling cups, and generally staying busy. In my house, the kitchen is fairly isolated (though not completely), and relatively quieter than the rest of the house when we have company, and it’s smaller, so only so many people can be in there at once. Working in the kitchen allows me to wear something that I’m more comfortable in, because my mother won’t have me “ruining my nice clothes”. Washing dishes has the same sort of effect as the Rubik’s Cube – it gives me something to do with my hands, and to concentrate my eyes on. Usually people don’t come too close because they don’t want to get soap or water on themselves, and I am usually able to have a conversation with the person. And most people leave rather quickly because they want to get back to the main party, leaving me on my own to wind down. So my main survival mechanism for parties hosted by my mother is to spend hours in the kitchen. If I disappear to my room, she knows, because I have to shut the door, but to her, the kitchen is an ok place for me to be, because it’s both useful (less clean up later) and I often speak with everyone she wants me to have socialized with.

I do want to add, however, that I am NOT advocating for parents to stick their Autistic children in the kitchen during parties. This is something that works for me, but as the saying goes “if you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person”, and what works for me may not be the best method for you or your child. I do dishes and stay in the kitchen during these events because of my mother’s refusal to allow me a safe space in my home during parties. If I needed a safe space, I have always had to make one for myself, and if it didn’t meet her approval, then it was actively denied**. This just happened to be the best way for her to get her way while I was able to function enough to please her. Plus her dishes got cleaned, and it kept the party running smoothly, so it benefited her more than it was a detriment.

So how do YOU survive (and maybe even enjoy) the holiday season? What are some of your coping mechanisms when it gets to be too much?

*I was going to add a post on “Family”, but it got way too long and too personal and WAY too whiny. Maybe one day, but not this time around.

**My mother’s disdain of all my autistic tendencies has been miserable at best and abusive at worst, and is worthy of many other discussions and posts.

————————

(Although this paragraph really belongs in part 2) As an adult, my friends have embraced me for myself, with all my quirks and craziness, and because of that, they are very accommodating to me when they have gatherings. They genuinely want to have me join them, and will go out of their way to make it “autism-friendly” for me, everything from a quiet place for me to go if I need to calm down, to food that I am able to eat, to nice quiet activities (puzzles, board games, etc.) and often smaller groups of people. As I have gotten older and more aware of how my brain functions, I have been better able to articulate what I need to function, and I have come across people who have bothered to listen.

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Responses

  1. I think it’s great that you have found a way to cope with the situation, although it’s extremely sad that your experience with your mother is so unpleasant. I know how hard it is to set boundaries and change the relationship – one of the reasons I moved many, many miles away from my own family!

  2. Yeah, I solved my mother problem by moving far, far away too. 🙂 It’s definitely the best thing I ever did for my mental (and physical) health.

  3. […] that first post. So I decided I’d go to holiday theme, and thus my “An Autistic’s Holiday Survival Guide” posts were born. I wrote “Words” on the plane flight back home – my laptop didn’t have […]

  4. I just read through the posts– know that I will refer to them again soon.E., your need to find a safe place to get away from the hubbub so reminds me of my son! When we visit him at his group home, we often sit in the living room with him, and maybe one or two of his housemates. Jay will sit with us for a few minutes, and then leave the room (goes to hid bedroom). The staff at the house used to go and get him, forcing him to “sit with Mom and Auntie! They came to see you!” I tried many times to tell them it was OK with us if he left and returned when he felt ready. They thought they were teaching him good manners and social skills. Finally, I spoke with the house manager. He agreed that Jay’s leaving the room WAS a social skill! It was a social survival skill for him! It was not at all rude, given the reality of Jay’s autism. They did teach him to say (partly in sign) that he needed space. That covered the politeness requirement. I wish that everyone involved in an autistic person’s life would read these holiday survival posts of yours. They apply to so many social situations, not only the holidays. Thank you!!

    • aww thanks 🙂 I’m glad that they make sense for you, and also that you’ve found good ways to interact with Jay. 🙂 Life is all about happy mediums.

  5. Here I am again! I wanted to share things I have learned about Christmas and birthday celebrations with my autistic son. First, we no longer light the cake and all sing “Happy Birthday” to him — it makes him cover his ears and run from the room! Jay prefers small, quiet gatherings with cake and a few (unwrapped) presents. That’s another thing– We no longer wrap any gifts for Jay. It might be the sound of the paper as it rips, or the texture, or whatever– but, he clearly doesn’t want to open his gifts! We just take his new shirt or fiddle toy or whatever it might be, out of the bag and place it near him, telling him it’s for him. Then, he usually will investigate the gift. It just makes sense that when you’re giving someone a gift or gathering in their honor, you want to do so in a way that is most pleasing and comfortable to that person. If it’s just a holiday party for family & friends, a good host will make sure that anyone with special needs — whether they be dietary restrictions due to allergies, access to a bathroom without climbing stairs for an elderly guest, or a quiet spot for someone with sensory issues– has his/her needs considerately addressed, and therefore feels safe and free to enjoy the affair. Just had to add my two cents!

    • That unwrapped presents thing makes so much sense. I’ve always hated tearing wrapping paper – it hurts my skin and teeth and brain when it tears! So I would carefully peel it back, trying to avoid contact with the stuff.

      “It just makes sense that when you’re giving someone a gift of gathering in their honor, you want to do so in a way that is most pleasing and comfortable to that person” – YES!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀 Exactly 🙂 And I do have pretty amazing friends who help make sure that I have sensory/social escapes in our gatherings. 🙂

  6. […] 4 of my Autistic’s Holiday Survival Guide. (Part 1: Clothes, Part 2: Attending Parties, and Part 3: Hosting Parties can be found at the links given.) I will continue adding to this guide indefinitely. If you would […]

  7. I’ve cut off all but one parent (who’s awesome) and one sibling (who’s shit but siblings don’t have much power). All of my friends are pretty good at the autism thing so I often hide in kitchens, spare bedrooms, basements, porches, etc. My dad and I also have a rule that I have to spend 3 hours at a family dinner but once I leave he doesn’t talk to me until I talk to him which is lovely.

    My biggest hack was finding a silvery necklace that is super stimmy so I can leave it on and look nice or take it off and play with it. Its like NT camouflage.


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