Monday, December 18, 2017

Avoiding Sensory Pitfalls at Christmas and other End of Year Gatherings

I love Christmas. I love all the flashing lights, the familiar Christmas carols and the decorations. I didn't really enjoy visiting relatives when I was little but now I really love the opportunity to catch up with people I haven't seen for a long time. Unfortunately, my view isn't the most common view among people with Asperger's syndrome and many people find Christmas to be a special kind of torture. 

In this post, I'll be addressing some of the ways that you can prepare for common sensory issues which affect adults and children during Christmas and similar festivities. 

Establishing Safety

Establishing safety wherever you go is probably the most important advice I can give anyone with sensory issues. Sometimes pushing the boundaries on your sensory issues can backfire and particularly in children, can lead them to run straight into dangerous areas.  Giving them safe places to go and safe people to go to will greatly alleviate the strain.

 Choose a Safe Area 

A safe area is a place where you can go to be by yourself. A good safe area has no distractions, such as flashing lights or music and is easily closed off to reduce the amount of sound coming from nearby areas. Sometimes the safe area will have distractions in it that are particularly suited to the person using the area. These could include a computer game, a fidget toy or soft furnishings.

If you're having a Christmas function at home, then the “safe place” is easy. It's usually your bedroom unless you share with siblings and it's going to be used during the function.

If you're the parent of a child with sensory issues and you're hosting a party, you might want to offer your bedroom as a safe area for the duration of the function. 

You'll also need to establish some rules with your child regarding the use of the safe area. If you don't impose limits, your child may choose to spend the whole function in the safe area.

If the function is elsewhere, you should try to establish a safe area at the earliest opportunity.  Toilets are always a good first port of call but these can get crowded sometimes and they're not always the best place for a person to come down from a sensory overload. 

If you're in a place with larger surrounds, you may be able to find some solitude in the outside areas but you'll need to set boundaries for younger kids to prevent them from crossing busy roads or running other risks.

Choosing Safe People

If you're a child, the "safe people" will usually be your parents or they may sometimes be a "best friend". If you're an adult, the safe people will be your partner, trusted friends or mentors. A good safe person will help you to get to a safe area, intervene on your behalf when trying to reduce stimuli or cover for you when you suddenly have to disappear. 

Choosing the Best Places to Sit

If you arrive at a function early, there will be plenty of places to sit. If you arrive later, your choice will be limited. This is also true of buffet-syle lunches and dinners. Get your food early and you'll be able to choose where you sit.

If you're the parent of a child with sensory issues, then the odds are that you'll want to seat the family together. You'll need to think carefully before you choose an appropriate spot. If you're the person with sensory issues, it's easier. You just need to look out for yourself.

Here's a few things to keep in mind when choosing a seat;

  • Try to get a seat near the end of the table. It makes it easier if you need to escape quickly and it avoids problems where people are sitting too close to you. 
  • Look out for speakers set around the room and try to get a seat that isn't too close to them.
  • In a buffet environment, don't sit too close to the food, as it will not only create a lot of noise and smells but it may also wind up having people lining up around your table. 
  • Try to avoid loud talkers or touchy people. If you got to the function early enough, you'll probably already know who some of the loudest people are.
  • If you're light sensitive, look for flashing lights and try to sit so that you're facing away from them. 

Dress for the Occasion

Since you're going to festivities where you already know that there will be a lot of sensory data. You need to make sure that you don't add to the issues . Be sure to wear low sensory clothing, nothing with tags and nothing scratchy.

Many people wear "new things" at these functions, so if you've bought new clothes especially for the occasion, consider trying them in advance, just to make sure that they aren't going to be irritating on your skin.

From here, you can accessorise to decrease your sensory issues. Wearing darker glasses, can significantly help in this regard.  They reduce the effects of flashing lights and they make it easier for you to look like you're giving good eye contact when in fact you're not.

If you've got headphones, particularly earbuds, bring them. They can be a great way to discretely reduce noise. If not, you might want to invest in some earplugs; just in case.

If hugging and kissing relatives is uncomfortable for you, you might want to wear something that makes it more difficult for others to get to you -- or you might want to talk to your parents or friends about "blocking for you".  If nothing else, becoming scarce during arrivals and departures or pretending that you have a cold can sometimes do the trick.

Whatever you do, the end of year festivities are as much "your time" as they are everybody else's, so you need to whatever you can to make your participation in these events enjoyable. 

Happy Christmas to all and see you in 2018.