Sunday, December 11, 2011
Looking Out the Window: Welcome Author E. A. West Blogging about Christmas and Autism. Read about Key to Charlotte, Her New Book
In her wonderful blog about Christmas and Autistics author E.A. West reminds us to keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs: On Christ
The holiday season can be stressful for anyone. Visiting family and friends, decorating the house, attending holiday parties, and shopping for the perfect gifts can wear anyone out. Now, take all of that holiday busyness and add in the extra challenges caused by autism. In that situation, holiday stress takes on a whole new meaning.
Autistics are known for struggling with social situations. A typical, uneventful day at school or work is enough to completely exhaust someone on the autism spectrum. A regularly occurring event, such as a weekly church service, can be completely overwhelming at times. I showed a brief glimpse into this in The Key to Charlotte. Although that situation was completely fictional, the emotions and thoughts shown are very real.
With all of this in mind, imagine being an autistic suddenly thrust into the midst of the highly social holiday season. Instead of peaceful, relaxed evenings and weekends to de-stress and prepare for the mandatory social interactions with fellow students or coworkers, you’re expected to go to parties, Christmas programs, and other events. The usual stress of shopping is increased exponentially by store aisles crowded with holiday displays and more shoppers than usual.
The simple act of putting up Christmas decorations can be overwhelming to some autistics. Routine and consistency are important to people on the autism spectrum, both children and adults. Putting a decorated tree in the living room, a few lights on the house, a wreath on the front door, and changing the centerpiece on the dining room table sound like small changes a person can easily adjust to. For an autistic, these small changes can be highly stressful. Instead of the familiar, soothing environment of home they now have strange, unfamiliar objects surrounding them. Some autistics will adjust more quickly than others, but all will have an adjustment period that likely causes them to feel stressed or insecure.
At this point, you probably wonder, “Can autistics enjoy the holiday season at all?” The answer: Absolutely! It just takes a little preparation and a lot of patience. Here are a few tips that can reduce the stress of the holidays for autistics and neurotypicals (non-autistics) alike.
Keep it simple. Many people treat the holidays as a time of excess in food, decorations, gifts, and activities, but all of this adds unnecessary stress that dampens the joy of the season. Keeping your holiday plans and preparations simple will reduce stress. Instead of trying to create a huge, professional quality, multi-course dinner of dishes you have never made before, set up a buffet-style dinner of family favorites with a few special holiday dishes. Be selective about what activities to participate in rather than trying to do them all. Put up only a few tasteful decorations instead of trying to outdo the Griswold family home.
Don’t wait until the last minute. A lot of stress is caused by rushing around at the last minute to buy gifts, prepare for a party, put up decorations, etc. If you start early, not only will it reduce your stress, it will also help autistics keep their holidays stress levels down by allowing them to adjust to a string of small changes spread out over several days or weeks rather than having to deal with a sudden mass of changes all at once.
Always have a quiet place available. Everyone needs a moment alone to relax now and then. By setting apart a room or other area of your house as a designated quiet zone for guests (and yourself), you’ll be doing autistics and your own stress levels a huge favor.
Learn to say no. Very few people expect everyone they invite to a party or event to show up. It’s okay to politely decline some invitations if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Instead of attending three holiday parties, two Christmas programs, and a holiday concert or two this week, pick the two or three events that are most important to you and say no to the rest.
Keep the focus of the Christmas season where it belongs: on Christ. Much of the stress caused by the holiday season comes from placing too much emphasis on the commercialized aspects of Christmas. If you return the focus to celebrating Christ’s birth, a lot of the stress from “keeping up with the Joneses” will fade away under the light of the true meaning of Christmas.
About Key to Charlotte
Charlotte Harris can't speak due to a quirk in her autistic brain, but that doesn't stop her from communicating with others. Unfortunately, it prevents her from achieving two of her dreams--to praise God through singing and to carry on a simple conversation with her own voice.
Zakaria Rush is the new Director of Children's Ministries at Charlotte's church, and he can't keep his thoughts off the partially mute blonde with a love for guitar music. Her innocence and love of the simple things in life intrigue him and make him long to give her what she wants more than anything: her voice.
Can Zakaria help Charlotte find the key to unlocking her ability to speak, or will his attempt to help her only lock away their chance for love?
Bio: E.A. West, author of sweet and inspirational romance, is a lifelong lover of books and storytelling. In high school, she discovered the wonders of sharing her stories with others through writing. She picked up her pen in a creative writing class and hasn’t laid it down yet. Her love of writing encompasses not only the romance genre but also a variety fiction and non-fiction styles.
Born and raised in Indiana, she still resides there today with her family and a small zoo of pets that includes the typical dogs and cats, and the more unusual African water frogs and a ribbon snake. Her interests are as varied as her critters. She has been known to carry on conversations about everything from politics and current events to gardening and theology. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her working on her latest knitting or crochet project.
Read more about E. A. and her work at