5 tips for surviving the holiday season from an adult on the autism spectrum

Ron Sandison Christmas Picture

By Ron Sandison

Many of my greatest memories are holiday related – the Christmas of 1982 when Santa placed under our tree a stuffed prairie dog — Prairie Pup. My new special interest quickly became prairie dogs for the next eight years. Prairie Pup and I were inseparable until I began middle school. Prairie Pup became the first prairie dog expelled from the Oakland County Schools. The Special Education teachers informed my parents, “Your son is too old to be carrying a love-worn prairie dog desparately needing Rogaine.”

During the holidays I have experienced meltdowns and stress. One of the biggest meltdowns I experienced was when I was seven years old. My Christmas gift was an army outfit, equipped with a toy machine gun, walkie-talkies, and binoculars. After a few days the trigger on the machine gun broke. My parents did not send it back to the North Pole for repairs but instead returned it to Sears.

The new army set was complete except for one small detail – the binoculars in the new set were a different style, a 1940’s design compared to modern. When I saw the new binoculars in the box (and the former one not there) my emotions exploded. I hit my head relentlessly, smashing everything in my path like an enraged Tasmanian devil. My meltdown lasted ten straight hours; it only ceased after my parents went back to Sears and found my original binoculars.

Luckily for my family and friends I have learned five survival techniques for the holidays.

Comfortable Attire

You can reduce stress by dressing comfortably for holiday events. During the holidays I enjoy wearing my Frosty the Snowman pajamas and Star Wars T-shirts. These clothing help my sensory issues stay balanced and cause me to feel calm.

Adjust your Environment to Suit your Needs

Be prepared for the environment of holiday events. My dad has severe asthma. If the family hosting an event has a dog or cat, my dad will politely ask them to keep the pet in another room to prevent him from having an asthma attack. I have sensory issues to smoke and won’t attend any holiday event where people will be smoking.

Avoid Family members who cause you Stress

Know who to avoid at holiday events. Certain family members can be annoying and rude especially for us on the spectrum. Some examples – the aunt who has a funky body odor and loves to give you a big hug or your uncle who asks more questions than an inquisition. These family members can add stress to your holiday. Avoid them.

Pack a Stress Relief Bag

Bring a “fun bag” that helps relieve anxiety. My fun backpack contains books and toys. When I become bored or overwhelmed by the noise of the nieces and nephews playing; I sneak off and read a book.

Have a Place to Escape

Always have an escape route. At my parents’ house, I have a man cave with over 4,000 books and a Calico Critter collection. When I feel stressed out I hide in my cave. The escape route for you could be going for a walk outside or a room away from the guests.

These five coping skills can help you relax and be ready for the holiday season. If you would like to share your tips, please comment below.


Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an Art of Autism board member, an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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