Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Gathering Survival: Tips for the person with AS

I've never particularly enjoyed family gatherings over the holidays.  They're okay, but the majority of my extended family is middle aged and rather boring to be around.  I have two cousins close to my age (both of whom I get along with) and I won't be seeing them this year.  Instead, I'll be answering the same questions over and over and over again: How's college, how are your grades, do you like your classes, do you have a boyfriend yet?

I've created some tips that have helped me get through the holidays and hope that they help other people with Aspergers.

  • Bring something to do.  A book, laptop, music, a game, anything you can play by yourself.  This is helpful when in a situation which could be overwhelming and allows you to retreat and just ignore the world.
  • Volunteer to help.  People appreciate when you offer to set the table, clean up dishes, bring something special or help them in general.  Unless you know they really hate help and see it as an intrusion, be on the look out for opportunities to assist.
  • Keep aware of hints.  NTs can be irritating because they drop lots of hints but never say something directly.  If someone keeps mentioning that you make a great bread pudding (or any other food or craft item), ask them if they'd like you to bring it if it's possible for you to do so.  If you can't but they seem to want it, tell them, "Oh, I'd love to bring my bread pudding, but my oven isn't working (or any other reason you might have)".
  • Be up front about being overwhelmed.  If someone is bugging you, tell them politely but firmly, "I'd like a little space right now please."
  • Prepare answers to the questions you know you're going to get, such as major life changes or general status.  Rehearse what you'll say about your job, school, significant other, children or hobbies.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of any food sensitivities you have in advance.  If you recently became a vegetarian/vegan, discovered a new food allergy, converted to a religion with special food requirements or switched to a special diet, tell everyone at least a month ahead of time and keep reminding them.
  • When engaged in conversation, try to not get drawn into family drama.  If Aunt Marge and Uncle Wendell are going through a rough spot in their marriage, avoid gossiping about it or any other family issues.  Same goes for the big two bad conversation topics: religion and politics.  An exception is expressing sadness that someone couldn't make it due to illness or finances.
  • Ask the host before you invite another person who wasn't invited by them to come with you.
  • Watch for cues.  Don't start eating until someone either says to eat or a majority of the others start to eat.  If everyone else bows their heads to say grace and you're not comfortable with it, put your head down and act the part - you don't have to actually do it, but be polite and don't create a scene.

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