Five Simple Tips on Reducing Holiday Meltdowns for Autistics

  • When choosing holiday decorations stay away from stimulating colors such as reds, oranges, and yellows. When everything else in the world is stimulating and overwhelming you will want to be able to go home to a sensory-friendly safe zone. Blues, deep purples, creams, greys, dusty pinks, and other soothing colors are good choices to help reduce stimulation for Autistics during the holiday season.
  • In the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven chose red and green for Freddy Krueger’s sweater because he had read in Scientific American that red and green are difficult for humans to perceive at the same time. This is due to green being a calming color and red being a stimulating color. Wes Craven used this to his advantage by dressing Mr. Krueger in his signature red and green sweater in order to induce discomfort in audiences so it enhanced the perception of anxiety and fear when Freddy Kreuger was on screen. You may be asking what the heck does that have to do with the holiday season, right? Well, the two colors that are associated with winter holidays the most are red and green. When we are exposed to these colors, whether or not it is in a horror movie, we still have a difficult time processing green, a calming color, and red, a stimulating color, at the same time and it increases our anxiety and discomfort during the holiday season. To help diminish the anxiety associated with the holidays ban red and green combinations from your holiday decorations at home. This also goes for other stimulating/calming color combinations such as red and blue, yellow and blue, orange and green, yellow and green, and other similar conflicting color combinations. Mix relaxing colors with each other such as grey and dusty blue or choose monochromatic decorations in a calming color.
  • Skip the metallics! We all love tinsel and glitter. We love the mirrors under candles and the sparkling table runners. Unfortunately, our nervous systems think otherwise. Shiny metallic decorations can increase stimulation, as do mirror ornaments, and other reflective decorations. The sensory experience they provide and the light they reflect can be disorienting and lead to overstimulation and rumbling. We may not even realize that may be the culprit of our stressed-out mood. Try skipping the shiny stuff in your holiday home decorating and you may see your anxiety go down.
  • Be super picky about the lights you choose to use on your tree or windows! Forget about the super bright LED’s. No Autistic needs bright blue/white light keeping them up all winter long. That defeats the purpose of winter! Instead, stay with lights that complement your calmer decoration colors. Once again you will want to stay away from contrasting colors so if you have a green tree shy away from red lights. However, oddly, red lights in and of themselves are not stimulating. It’s actually quite the opposite. Red lights won’t stimulate the brain at night and disrupt sleep patterns. Red lights are a good choice for around windows where light may shine into a bedroom window possibly keeping people awake. Good colors for trees are golden, clear, blue, and green lights all the same color or even intermixed with purple, orb style lights that give the tree more of a glow are also a good choice. Multicolor lights can add to increased stimulation when mixed with the colors of other ornaments and it may be wise to avoid them. Also, consider forgoing chasing or dancing lights.
  • Don’t stress about decorating your entire house. The point of decorating is for you to celebrate as you see appropriate. If all you want is a tree with clear lights then by all means just have a tree with clear lights! If all you desire to put up for the holidays is a wreath on your front door and nothing more then go for it! The point is to lessen your meltdown potential during the holiday season by making it a sensory-friendly haven for you. It’s all up to you and what your unique Autistic nervous system can handle.

Au-ccam’s Razor

Scrabble tiles that read "Keep things simple".
Yes!

Rise in Autism rates. Autism Epidemic. Autism Boom. Spike in Autism. No matter how you phrase it the question is the same. We have many theories but no one seems to agree. However, sometimes the answer is so simple and obvious it’s mind boggling and so I step forward to posit an answer to the question, “What is causing the increasing rates of Autism?” I put forth that the internet is a major factor that answers why we have been seeing an increase in Autism Rates over the last 20 years. 

Since the beginning the internet has connected people. After all, that is what it was made to do! It went from simple information exchange to the leviathan it is today. Social media connects nearly everyone on the planet including Autistics and Autistics connect via the web just like everyone else and just like everyone else Autistics have found it to be a boon to their community. One that didn’t exist in pre-internet times. One we are protective of and cherish.

Before January 1, 1983, the birth of the internet, and the subsequent invention of social media Autistic people depended on the same modes of communication that everyone else did. The spoken or written word and anyone can correctly guess how that went for us! As the dawn of the internet communication revolution progressed little by little Autistics, like the rest of humanity, have become connected via the internet. 

Autistic people now have a tool, the internet, of juggernaut proportions and it has led to the increase in Autism rates. The use of the internet by Autistic people gave the Autistic community a way to simply meet. Something that was more difficult to do in pre-internet days. 

One way the world wide web has fostered our growth is recognition. We see others like us now and we connect. We realize we are Autistic too and seek out a diagnosis. One must also take into account that parents and families will see Autistic tendencies in children and each other and pursue an Autism diagnosis for their loved ones. This is all thanks to the internet where before we may not have known others like us existed at all. Internet access has increased recognition and therefore DX’s of Autism have gone up.

A stimulating aspect of the Autism boom, is that the internet has fostered, to be blunt… sex and reproduction. Prior to the mainstream internet we were either not aware of each other, or were under watchful eye.  Both can cause issues with meeting and having sex. Now we have a way to connect and don’t fool yourself. Autistics even use hook up apps such as Tinder. These meetings have led to romances, interludes, and marriages. Just as it’s helped non Autistic communities improve their sex lives. 

Another way the internet has affected Autistic mating is observation and comfort. We can now get to know people prior to meeting. We can process and analyse, as we do, potential sexual partners. This increases comfort when finally meeting and the subsequent relationship that follows. Not all internet friends turn out to be intimate partners but it’s safe to say they the internet has quelled some of the anxiety that comes with seeking a sexual partner. As a result, birth rates between Autistics have gone up. We are seeing more Autistic people because Autistic people are having Autistic babies.

As mentioned before the internet has helped form an Autistic community. Now we aren’t afraid to go out and seek a DX or even come out self DX’d, when we realize that we are Autistic! We know there is no shame in our community and we are protective of our own. Instead of hiding in the shadows and masking a life that is not true to us we can go forth and say “I think I’m Autistic” or “I’m Autistic” and I need a diagnosis. Autists aren’t alone anymore and people feel better about seeking a diagnosis because of the community the internet has allowed to form. We have a cushion to land on when we get that final word that we are Autistic. It has emboldened people!

It seems overly simplistic when you think about it. However Occam’s Razor says the simplest answer is the best one. The internet gives us a platform in which recognition of each other, reproduction and romance, community, and comfort has increased the rates of Autism in the world. Do you know what? It’s a good thing!

Shock and Au

Danger High Voltage

Waves have gone through the Autistic community this week as electric shock of disabled adults, and more appallingly, children has been deemed legal by a US appeals court. Here’s a bit of backstory. Recently, in the US, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had banned the use of a device called the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) that is commonly used at the Judge Rotenburg Educational Center on Autistics of all ages to shock them into obedience. This week the ban was overturned in court and lifted. The use of this dreadful device is continuing at Rotenberg in Canton, Massachusetts. 

Now while I am tempted to go on a rant on “How in the world is shocking someone considered education?”, I am resisting, for now. Before I get to that I’m addressing some misnomers that are going around about the use of electricity and it’s validity in medicine. Let’s start with the good stuff that can be done with electricity in medicine!

It’s Aliiiiive!

Electricity sounds scary as a medical treatment however it does have some useful applications. I’ve seen a few that are mislabeling the GED as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) but it’s not. ECT is a powerful emergency or last resort type of treatment for those with severe and untreatable depression and it has up to a 90% success rate. I know a small handful of people that have had ECT. They are forever grateful for their ECT treatment and how it relieved them from their debilitating depression. ECT is done with a patient’s consent under a doctor’s supervision. 

The patient is sedated with general anesthesia and given muscle relaxers to prevent convulsions, their vital signs are monitored during the procedure. An electric current is applied to the patient’s temples via electrode until the doctor sees the patient’s fingers and toes twitch. This let’s the doctor know the treatment is now complete. While no one knows exactly how ECT works, it works! Theories from changing the polarization of the brain to the stimulation of neurotransmitters exist but no one has pinned down what goes on in the brain during the procedure that alleviates depression. ECT has saved lives and, when performed under general anesthesia, is a humane and effective treatment. 

Another application of electricity in medicine is the defibrillator. The Automated External Defibrillator (AED) can be found in many public places like malls and in airports. The AED is an emergency tool that is used in the event that someone is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. 

The AED electrodes are applied to the chest and can diagnose and treat or prompt the user to treat the heart by administering an electric shock to the heart to get it beating probably again. The AED is a modern miracle and has saved lives. It can be used by both the average person and trained professional to stabilize a situation until help arrives or until they can get the patient to the hospital. The AED is another application of electricity that is relevant in medicine. 

I do acknowledge that these two treatments are while people are unconscious and if I am to continue on to make my point I need to have some experience in the matter. Do I have any experience in medicinal use of electricity? Why, yes, I do! I have been fully conscious while given a shock and it wasn’t pleasant. Thankfully it wasn’t an emergency or a GED that I experienced! Instead it was a test that read my nerves to diagnose Peripheral Neuropathy called an Electromyography (EMG).

During the Electromyography my doctor placed an electrode in the form of a needle into my upper calf then he shocked my foot. The needle would read the shock as it traveled up my leg and tell the doctor how much of the electricity was making it through my nerves. The doctor said it would be a little sting or pinch or other inadequate saying they use to not tell you it’s really going to hurt. The shock hurt my toes, my foot, and made all the muscles in my leg jump. It was extremely unpleasant and my leg was sore for that day.

I’ll make it hurt!

The sensation was stronger than the one you get when you scuff your feet on the carpet and then touch the door knob. It was stronger than the static in the blanket. Yet, I have a feeling that the medically sound shock to my foot wasn’t as strong as the aversive called the GED that is being used to torture disabled people into submission in school. They say it feels like a bee sting, have you ever been stung by a bee? It is painful!

I’d like to point out that Rotenberg is not a medical establishment as it claims to be a “school” and a place of “education”. It’s the only school in the United States to use shock treatment on disabled adults and children alike. The GED is worn by the victim while the control for the device remains in possession of the “teacher”. When the so-called “student” does something that the teacher disapproves of, the teacher then shocks the pupil until the pupil complies with the demand. These demands are as petty as not taking your coat off within an acceptable amount of time which is decided on by said teacher. Students are even shocked for crying because they were shocked. Self-stimulatory Behavior, which enables Autistics to produce necessary neurotransmitters to process the environment and release anxiety in the body, is punished by shock. This is not medicine, this is not education. It’s senseless abuse and it should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. The GED needs to be recognized as such under the Constitution. 

There is no medical or educational application for the GED when there are more humane ways to help someone that is disabled. Care, Patience, Time, Repetition, Respect, and many other methods exist to teach. The GED does not teach nor treat, the GED scares people making them live in fear of doing the most human thing of all and that is making mistakes. No one should be punished for that. 

More on: 

GED (Graduated Electronic Decelerator)

ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy)

AED (Automated External Defibrillator)  

EMG (Electromyography)

How My IQ Proves I’m Utterly Inept

I hear and read comments on IQ all over the internet that range from prideful (I have an IQ of 150!) to the defensive (You just think your smarter me.) to very disrespectful (You’re just stupid!) to blunt logical truth (You know your IQ doesn’t make you better, right?). The comments go on and on and things can get pretty tense between those with differing opinions. As someone with a higher IQ I want to set the record straight with this humorous anecdote on how completely unintelligent I can be but first a little background!

I am a late DX Autistic woman who was given an IQ test during my assessment. They do this to rule out intellectual disability that may be mimicking Autism. I was okay with that as it makes logical sense to rule things out that may be a differential diagnosis. During my ASD evaluation, I discovered that IQ is on a spectrum as well! My IQ at the time was 113-122 giving me a median IQ “score” of 118. 

It was explained to me that IQ can change in a person from circumstance to circumstance and it’s completely subjective. Since I had taken the IQ test during the Christmas Season (major stress), recently melted down from sensory overstimulation that the Holiday Season brings, and didn’t sleep the night before I possibly could improve the score if I were in a more optimal situation. (I have not attempted to do this and don’t intend to do this just for ego-boosting reasons if I am given one again for DX purposes, so be it!) However, I was also told that if I were put in a more stressful situation then I may score much lower. From that I know for a fact that IQ is never static.  

Now, in the recent past, my whole house (dogs, husband, and myself) had Norovirus. During this time in order to keep hydrated, I had gotten a bottle of Gatorade. When I was finished with the Gatorade I refilled the bottle with Mio and water and drank it. Refilled it and put it in the refrigerator to chill. I was being a responsible patient and doing what I needed to do, no problem, right? Wrong. 

I forgot about that water because my ADHD causes me to forget about everything and went on about my Autistic existence. A few weeks later I’m throwing up more than a puppy with motion sickness on a roller coaster. I ended up at Urgent Care on an IV and sent home with a pocket full of anti-nausea meds so I stopped throwing up. It was very worrisome as I had been fighting a UTI in the previous month. 

I got home and popped into a chat room to let some online friends know how I was and it dawned on me as I was talking to a medical professional in the group. I had drunk the water in the fridge on a particularly hot day after I had run out of ice. It was chilled and I didn’t think anything of it and I drank it mainly because I wasn’t thinking. I cringed! It was far, far from an intelligent thing to do but it made perfect sense as I was the only one to be reinfected in the house! 

I, of high average to superior intelligence, had given myself the worst case of vomiting to the point of dehydration with the full knowledge that the bottle of water was contaminated. I felt completely helpless and surprised I could even keep myself alive but I had simply forgotten because while my IQ may be impressive my section scores revealed more. 

My first section, Verbal Comprehension, was 114-125 which is Superior. I accredit my desire to communicate effectively on my high vocabulary and knowledge of what words mean. The second score I received was on Perceptual Reasoning was 104-117 which is High Average which probably is common in those that have a high pattern recognition in Autism. Now the bump in the road that took those two amazing scores down was my Working Memory which came in at a towering 83-96. This was the kink in the hose, the wrench in the machine, my Achilles Tendon. My working memory was Low Average. I take twice as long to learn something than my peer group.

My ADHD prevented me from getting a higher score and that was in a quiet office with no distractions. If I had taken the IQ test at a food court in a busy mall my scores could be drastically lower simply because of the overstimulation that would undoubtedly occur. My answers may be sound and intelligent but my response time and inability to ignore the surrounding noises due to Sensory Processing Disorder would make me seem like there wasn’t anyone home. Not to mention my ability to get the information out in an order way would be negatively affected.

Remember, that ditzy blonde that you make fun of could be a brainiac that can shame you under the table when it comes to “intelligence” and it’s only her ADHD that gets in the way. If you put her and you in a different environment you could easily be calling her boss. However, there may be a guy that doesn’t have much education or knowledge but his memory and ability to retain information on one topic could easily lead to the same outcome. That brilliant composer may be at a 10th grade reading level. You never know!

In a nutshell, IQ means little in the bigger picture, as long as you treat everyone with dignity and respect you are succeeding more than you will ever realize! It’s a hard thing to admit that I didn’t live up to my IQ but it needs to be said so people know the truth about what makes people intelligent and what doesn’t, like my attention span and memory! 

Sensory and/or Meltdown Room for Adults: Part 2: Disability Accommodation/Modification Requests


I apologize for taking so long to get this second part out about the Sensory rooms! I have been valiantly battling a horrid Kidney Infection. Illness can have a greater effect on Autistic’s because the sensory stimulation from pain, fever, etc. and it can overwhelm the system and make them less like themselves than if, for example, a Neurotypical had the same level of illness. In an eggshell, a scratch can feel like a gaping wound. That is not what this article is about though! 


Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

This is the second article on Adult Sensory rooms! Last time we talked about picking colors that were soothing to our particular nervous systems needs. No two people are alike and therefore no two Autistics are alike. As a result, all of us are in different living arrangements. Some of you live with family, some of us rent, some of us own our own home. 

If you are blessed to own your own home and you have a spare room or area to turn into a sensory area you are lucky! You don’t need your appeal for accommodation to be met or approved by anyone but yourself and/or your spouse. For the rest of us, we have Parents and Landlords to respect. If you live with parents, or other family members, sit down and speak to them about what is available as a sensory area. As for this article, I am focusing on what to do if you are renting an apartment because my husband and I live in an apartment. 

Since my husband and I live in an apartment we can’t do much as far as changing the structure of a room without physical needs such as a wheelchair but we can do plenty as far as changing the aesthetic of the room to create a relaxing sensory room or a place to de-escalate a meltdown. In order to do this, we need to ask the landlord for some Reasonable Disability Accommodations/Modifications. 

List everything you need to do to make your area more accommodating because it all needs to go in a letter!

The first thing we need to do is decide what we need to do to make the area calming and make a list. Keep in mind these are requests to do these and cover them out of your own pocket of they are modifications and accommodations are at the expense of the landlord from what I understand. Do you want a different paint than what came with the apartment so it’s more soothing? My husband and I would like to do the area in Greys. Would you like to have a light fixture switched from a florescent bulb to a LED so you don’t get a headache? (The landlord should cover an expense like this but if he doesn’t make sure you can cover the cost of an electrician and/or fixture in case they won’t cover it or let you have maintenance help you switch it out.) Do you need to have noise restrictions loosened in case of a meltdown so a complaint doesn’t get you kicked out? Put that on the list too! If you desire a different mode of communication aside from speaking on the phone or in-person then that should be included as well. List everything you need to do to make your area more accommodating because it all needs to go in a letter! It’s easier to make a list to take with you to write a letter than going back and forth and trying to remember what you need. This way you don’t miss anything. 

Now from what I understand requests don’t need to be in letter form and can be made and granted in person with an oral agreement. However, life has taught me that paper trails are an Autistics best friend. It is always good to get things in writing to protect yourself in the future. If for some reason problems arise you need to be able to defend yourself. Having a letter of request and a letter granting the request is a good way to do this. (First, call your housing management and ask if they have specific forms they would prefer you to use before writing a letter so you don’t run into frustration having to backtrack and do it over with their forms.) You can send this by email if it’s to an official email address that is linked to the Apartments Management if that is not an option make sure you send it certified snail mail with a signature request so you can prove they received it. Anything in which you can prove that you sent it will work. (If you have official forms from your Landlord then copy those before and after you fill them out. Before so in case you mess up you have spares, after so you have a record.)

It’s understandable that you may not want to disclose that your Autistic to your Landlord due to the risk of discrimination so you may want to use an umbrella term to describe your accommodation needs. When I spoke to the property management company that owns my building I used the term Neurological Condition and Sensory Processing Disorder. You may also use the term Asperger’s is you so choose. Asperger’s is trendy and, sadly, it may be more accepted than straight-up Autism. I understand that Asperger’s has controversial origins and I agree with filtering the term out of Autism discourse however this isn’t the time to make an issue of that. You will have plenty of time to educate everyone once you have gotten to know them better. We are focusing on requesting accommodations in a way that you feel safe and secure. (Keep in mind if you do say Autistic then you are still covered against discrimination but this is about your sense of well being.)

I wrote a Sample Accommodation/Modification Request Letter however there are probably far better examples on the internet than I am able to provide, please, feel free to look them up. You may want to request in the letter that they respond in writing as well whether an email or a return letter in the mail. 

Photo by Kamille Sampaio on Pexels.com

When you have written your letter print two, one for your records, and the other to take it into your Doctor or other Health Care Professional and ask them to write a letter confirming and verifying your request. This is your letter of support that you will be turning into your landlord with your letter or request forms. Your medical professionals do not need to disclose any medical information that is not part of the request so, if you need to paint in a calming color that isn’t as bright to your eyes as white, that is what they need to focus on. What they do not need is information about things that do not pertain to the request. So if you are, for example, HIV positive or Diabetic the Management doesn’t need to be informed if your requests do not to pertain to these conditions. HIPPA does matter! Your privacy matters.

Make a certified copy of the Doctor’s letter (a notary public can do this, many banks have them for free) or have him write two copies so you have a copy for your own records with his signature (it’s always good to have backups). If you are mailing it then put the letter/forms, signed with a pen, put it, and a copy (duplicate or notarized copy) of your Doctor’s letter in a business-size envelope. Fill it out like your normally would and take it to the Post Office. Tell them you need to send it Certified Mail with a Signature on Delivery. Keep any receipts as proof and so you can track it.

If you are sending an email then scan the letter or forms into your computer. (I do not doubt you know this however sometimes I get overwhelmed to the point I do not think of the trees in the forest and I just see the problem. I am simplifying for ease for those that read this in a time of high stress and require a higher level of support.) Write your request letter in the email. Attach the scan of the Doctor’s Letter. Send. Make sure you don’t delete your sent mail so you can prove that you did in fact send it. 

Keep in mind you shouldn’t start on any accommodations or modifications until you have the go-ahead from your Landlord. If in a letter or email save it for your records. In case there is reason to believe that the Landlord will contact you by phone to grant permission or deny your request then put a call recorder app on your phone if it doesn’t come with one pre-loaded. That way you still have proof of permission or denial. As I said I’m a big fan of evidence trails! 

*If you do not live in the United States such as a US territory or another country then check with the local authority on regulations for disabled renters.