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.

My Coming into Autism Story

They are sorely short on Autism pics so you get this!

Like all Autistics, I have never fit in. Ever. I can fake it pretty well but something is missing that prevents me from bonding with others. A few hangouts or dates and they usually bail leaving me in the wake of “What the hell did I do this time?” I knew it wasn’t me as I always intended the best for everyone, I tried so hard to click. It never worked with females (the term was chosen because it doesn’t denote solely those assigned female at birth) but I was better at being friends with males. Which, as a married woman, complicates things. So I just remain lonely and for the most part friendless.

I have separate Medical/Psych records that note my lack of eye contact, reduced facial expression, and several other Autistic tells that no one was able to hear. If Autism Speaks why then did no one hear it for 37 or so years. Simply it’s due to people not wanting to hear it. I even walked 2 miles to the ER to try to get help for what I assumed was PTSD and was told that I was the problem. I have some strong words for that but I’ll not mention them. I tried to tell them that I was about to have an episode in which I would not be able to prevent myself from hitting my head. Still. Nothing. 

In 2017 I joined forces with my Husband and his Nephew who was itching to start an online Church. We were sick of the crap that was getting pumped out into the World after Trump was crowned King and we decided to fight the good fight. I was chosen as the face because, well, I’m attractive compared to them I guess. About 4 sermons into the formation of said Congregation I started to have a huge, monumentally huge, panic attack. I had one person watching at the time and I knew who it was. I was prepared. I was safe. Medicated for Anxiety. By all means, I was not in a position to have a panic attack from PTSD. This isn’t my Modus Operandi. I felt sheer dread, I was rumbling and about to Meltdown. The next weekend I couldn’t even turn on the computer. I was experiencing a Shutdown, a term I wouldn’t be familiar with for some time. Something was up that was far beyond anything that could be Therapized out of me and I was certain I knew what was going on. I had realized that I had had Meltdowns before.

That week I told my Therapist what had been going on and asked her something I had suspected since 2010. My nephew is Autistic and I think I’m Autistic as well, what do you think? 

Her reply was, “I have noticed some things but if you are you can’t be very Autistic. Just a little bit, if anything. Do you know Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory?” 

Me, “Of course that’s my favorite show! I’m not as social as him though. I don’t even have as many friends as he does.” 

Therapist, “Exactly, he wouldn’t be either if he was Autistic in real life. He’d never be married or have that many friends.” 

My awesomeness, “Do you know who could assess me?!” 

Therapist, “No”.

I left with Sheldon wouldn’t be as functional and neither would you but she agreed that I should be assessed.

The search for someone to diagnose me was in my hands because it’s incredibly difficult to find someone that will do an adult Dx and I hate talking on the phone, so, naturally! They make it as hard as possible for those whose parents didn’t bother to look into why their kid was weird! The lack of consideration and respect for me as an Autistic was front and center. Thankfully my IQ is high so I was able to find someone in an efficient timeframe. (Anyway, that is what a Psych would tell me.) 

I found a place that would take my insurance and assessed adults. It was a Godsend having the entire bill covered through our insurance and I feel so blessed because of that. Seriously, that never happens! But my state passed a law that increased the accessibility of Autism services to those who needed them. So I made an appointment. 

(Please note that if I had not been awarded SSI and been put on Medicaid I would not have been able to afford the 850.00 bill for the assessment even with my husband’s insurance. I’m not privileged, I’m disabled.)

It was in the middle of the Christmas season in 2017 that my first half of a 4-hour assessment was scheduled. When we got there I spilled my coffee and felt horrible.

She looked at me and said “Most of the time when someone your age comes in looking for an Autism diagnosis it’s because they have a family member that was diagnosed and/or they have done extensive research themselves and already know that they are Autistic. Tell me why you suspect you are Autistic.” 

I let it all out. I walk on my toes! The notes in several medical files that say I can’t make eye contact. The times I have tried again and again to make friends. My laughing at (it was really with but I didn’t know she wasn’t laughing) a friend in pain. I didn’t know she was in pain. To me, it sounded like she was doubled over in laughter. I still cringe over this!

Fun Fact: In the middle of my assessment my Doctor looked at my husband and said that she thinks he needs to be assessed next. A year later he received his Autism Dx!

I relayed to my assessing Psych how I would misread faces. To me, someone suppressing laughter and someone being angry, at times, can look the same. There’s the embarrassment when people walk away mid-sentence or conversation because I took too long to process the information and produce an answer. I was insanely quiet. Always assumed to be shy. (Once you get to know me though you can’t get me to shut up!) The one that took it though was that I didn’t speak until I was four. Four! Again, I ask, how was this missed!

After the first session, I was exhausted. It was Christmas and Christmas is hard on me when it comes to overstimulation. I melted down that night because of the 2 hours of assessment and all the Christmas cheer that was forced onto my nervous system in Walmart. I almost canceled the whole thing out of doubt but I went back for my second session anyway. 

I wanted to hide, the coffee stain was still there, I obsessed about it. This time she ran me through a battery of puzzles, simple math equations, memory exercises, and other tests. I found out that if I don’t have to think about the mathematical formulations that I can make an educated guess and guess the solution accurately. I have incredible lingual abilities which were probably learned out of the desperate need to communicate effectively. (It didn’t work. Being more proficient with words just makes people think I’m a snob and know it all. I’m not. I just want to connect.) I was able to logically deduce people’s state of mind even though I can’t intuitively pick up on things. (Ex: Crossed arms means someone is guarded, mad, or cold and I can analyze and extrapolate information from clues. Not always correctly.)

When I came back for the results she told me Autism was exactly what was going on! Oh! I was so happy but I didn’t show it because I don’t show my empathy outwardly as much as Neurotypicals even though I have plenty of empathy for people. I have a great IQ, which is what the second session was about. She explained that the IQ test was simply to rule out any other conditions that may give the appearance of Autism such as an intellectual disability, which I did not have, I was quite intelligent. I am a bit slower at learning but I also retain more information and in the long run can learn things better and more accurately than others therefore can carry out a job more completely and satisfactorily in comparison to my NT peers. (Even if it’s annoyingly accurate because I have problems deviating from what I’m taught and what I’m used to.)

In the end, I was given a Level 1 Autism diagnosis which used to be called Asperger’s. It gave me answers upon answers. Look no one wants to hit their head it’s messed up but I had a reason as to why I hit my head. Why is this?

It was because I was Autistic. I am okay with that.

Autism Meltdown Harm Reduction Technique #1

Hi, I’m BeautiDivergent and I’m a 40 year old Autistic Woman. Let me tell you that being on the Autism Spectrum comes with plenty of quirky cravings and habits. To no ones surprise many of these come out during the Neurological Phenomena commonly referred to as a “Meltdown”. Here I am sharing a trick I taught myself when I’m in the middle of a Neurological Event and feel the overwhelming instinct (because that is what it is) to throw things. This works for just about any age group.

These are just regular Wool Dryer Balls that you can pick up at almost any store. The original purpose of these balls are to be tossed into the dryer to fluff clothing in place of dryer sheets. They are soft and as you will see they won’t do any damage to this canvas map that I have hanging in my kitchen. (Please, do keep in mind I am a 5’2″ woman and probably don’t have the same arm muscle as a 6’5″ man. I may not damage the canvas but someone bigger might. There’s your disclaimer.)

While these may not do damage to this canvas they may cause a vase or a shelf to knock over and break so making an area for them to be thrown at or an area to be thrown in is a wise choice. Remember during a “Autistic Event” (Meltdown) Safety should be the primary focus. It’s best to be prepared and have “Meltdown” friendly areas in the home for when they do appear. These however are one of the best replacement activities when my system craves the input to throw something that I have found that work for me.