Self accommodations

New ways to do old things for the Holidays

Many people today are having to adapt to new ways of celebrating old traditions due to Covid 19
restrictions. It might be a good time to think through establishing some new traditions of your own.

So many autistic people struggle with holiday gatherings and activities because of sensory overload. Many of us will try to cooperate with family agendas because of tradition, social pressure/guilt, or a thousand other reasons, even though such gatherings and activities are very hard on us. I am here to tell you that you can celebrate without all of the stressful bits by establishing new traditions of your own.

Sensory overload is especially tough in groups at parties and places like crowded malls or stores, noise levels reach preposterous heights, flashing lights and sparkly things are even more common than “ever day” experiences.

Due to Covid restrictions, these experiences may be less this year as crowd sizes and gatherings are limited, etc. Why not establish new ways while everything is changing anyways?
For me, family gatherings were always distressing and stressful. Noise and chaos of so many stimulated adults and children all in one home or at a restaurant/ etc was so overwhelming. I was anxious to the point of feeling ill and it took me years to connect the distress it caused with the physical illness I almost always had at these gatherings, even getting ill before hand.

Instead I taught myself to seek out smaller gatherings, one relative or friend at a time in my home or meeting in a quiet place for a quiet activity together. There never seems to be enough time to visit at the large gatherings anyways.
Why not send cards or make phone calls or emails/ messages to individuals who are dear to your heart and make plans to meet or interact with only a few at a time instead?
Or stay home and wish everybody the best from afar?

Its OK to put your health and sanity first, no excuses needed; say “I’m sorry I can’t make it this year” and wish them well.
I learned to tell them simply that I had other plans this year, no excuses about my sensory overload, my sense of upset and failure about it all, etc..
My life became more bearable when I learned this coping skill.

Its OK to say no. Its OK to visit with individuals or not to, its OK to change plans even if there are established “tradition”. It is OK to do what it takes to make your days Merry and Bright… instead nightmares of struggles using coping skills and failing.
I am here to give you permission to allow yourself a life of fewer struggles, less frustration, less sensory overload and better days. There are so many alternatives to the things that cause such intense struggles for you.

Shop online, use the mail to send gifts or cards, use the phone or email, you can show your love and still give yourself the gift on health and well being.

Covid restrictions may make this even easier for those of us who are worried about “bucking the system” of “established traditions”. Blame Covid if you need to, you can do this!

More tools we can use

Making our own accommodations and finding help

As an older adult, it is very difficult to find support that is available to children and minors. Most insurance does not support specialized autism therapies for adults. But there may be ways of gaining support using therapies and systems already in place.

I think it is very important to know yourself and know your own struggles, strengths and weaknesses. If you have had a neurological study done, you will have some information about what you do best at, and what is hardest for you. I had never given this a thought.

It is amazing to me that so many autistic people have no concept of themselves. They have been so busy trying to survive and mask, interact with their demanding worlds, that they do not understand what motivates them, their emotions, how they see the world, their own thoughts and feelings and beliefs are often shoved to the background as not being essential to whatever struggle is of the moment. The majority do not seem to have any understanding at all about how others might see them. ( I surely did not!).
Many autistic folk don’t see the areas of life they struggle the most with, and usually do not understand why that particular thing is so difficult. Mostly we do know the frustration of not performing as we (or others) think we ‘should’ and we deal with residual guilt and self doubt because of those hidden struggles.

I had been so busy working and taking care of every day struggles I had never really thought about inner things. I did not understand the way I got through my days. What skills I used, what I believed about myself. I did not have a definite understanding of “who I was” or “what I wanted” in anything but the most shallow and immediate way as it depended on responses to every day situations. I have since had time and motivation to think about all of that. I can’t tell you how much it helps to know and value yourself enough to work to really understand the “inner you”.

Things to think about:

What things do I love to do best, and what is it that I like most about them?

What skills do I have that I perform well and confidently?

What skills do I struggle with, hate to be called on to use, fills me with a sense of struggle or failure?

When do I feel the happiest, most satisfied, most at peace?

How do I deal with sorrow, fears, disappointment, emotional pain? Do I need to learn healthier ways to respond?
Do I need to learn to recognize my feelings and express my feelings or learn to react to my feelings in healthier ways ?

Do I struggle with physical things? If so, what causes the most trouble for me?

Do I have anxiety or depression?

Do I have troubling responses to sensory and or emotional overload?

What struggles bother me the most, and do I need or want to learn new ways to deal with them?

Once we see our strengths and weaknesses and truly understand our struggles, we can begin to find ways to ease the struggles.

Accommodations for sensory overload, for example can be found in doing things in new ways. ( replacing bright flickering lights in the home with soft light, using rheostat switches to adjust brightness or dimness, for example) The list is endless of things we can do to help ourselves every day . But first we have to recognize the struggle and the needs.

We may not be able to access “autism therapy” but we can find professional specialists to help us with our social, emotional and our physical struggles.

There are occupational and physical therapists to help us with our gait or our coordination and our sensory struggles.
There are specialists in communication struggles to help us with speech, language, and other communication needs.
There are behavioral therapists who do not need to know you are autistic in order to help you overcome difficult behaviors, fears, anxiety, trauma, emotional recognition and self expression.

You can learn new ways to do things without your teacher/therapist knowing every detail about autism. I have found that many therapists are interested and open to learning more . The ones who listen instead of just tell you what you are or do or feel are the ones who will probably be most successful to work with. You may have to interview or try several before you find one you feel you can trust and who will work to understand and help you, but the things you can learn with a therapist as a coach or teacher for your life struggles will be worth the extra effort.

Insurance often can and will cover a certain number of visits to these specialists. Autism may contribute to your struggles, but your struggles may be better covered in the medical system (at least in the USA) through addressing the individual struggles and finding ways to work within the system which is already in place. (therapy for ptsd, therapy for trouble with walking, therapy for depression, etc rather than addressing autism directly)

Support groups and group therapies can also be helpful for social issues, as well as any special support groups for single issues such as epilepsy, various syndromes often associated with autism, etc… and in some large cities there are even autism support or social groups.

Adjusting to diagnosis and learning all the ways autism can affect us takes a lot of time. Please be patient with yourself and know you are not alone. It is a huge change to look at autism from the side of finally knowing. But knowing our diagnosis is autism, we can finally grow, understand, and take action for ourselves to make or lives better.
Take your time, explore, and realize that things will not change overnight, but gradually. 3 years in, and my life keeps getting better. The struggles are the same, but I am finding new ways to do things, and finding new understanding almost every day. 65 years of not knowing and adaptive changes I made in my life to survive will not be understood or un-done in a short while. It is an ongoing process. You are worthy of understanding, knowing, learning and you are worthy of the best life you can make for yourself .
Knowing will make all the difference!

Accommodations for autism?

” I don’t need accommodations”. I actually thought this for a moment or two, but then

After thinking it over, I realized I have all sorts of accommodations built into my living arrangements and routines. My husband accounts for a ‘natural fit’, having an “engineer brain” where he needs everything orderly and his schedule predictable to function at his best. Spouse has all sorts of things arranged a certain way. I naturally fell into his way of doing things long ago, because it worked for me too. Everything has a place where it belongs (our household belongings). If I replace something where it does not belong, I am reminded it does not belong there ( this is fairly frequent and sometimes stressful for both of us ).
We fell into the habit of cleaning every Saturday morning early in our 39 year relationship because we both worked on Monday Through Friday schedules. We still clean on Saturday mornings.
We share the chores of doing dishes, alternating days, I do them one day, he the next. He takes on the extra day… I do all the laundry, odd household jobs, washing floors, (cat care, feeding, doing litter box duty, cleaning the yard of dog waste, taking the pets to the vet) he mows and maintains the house, shovels snow, manages the check book, and cares for the car. We each have roles that are comfortable for us, and we rarely step out of those roles. Predictable routine! You saw that, right?
We schedule any deviation from this by using our calendar (Dr appointments, planned trips, planned visitors, etc) No surprises.
I choose my clothing for comfort and utility. Nobody else controls my wardrobe, nobody else influences my choices. ( NO uniforms, no requirements to dress a certain way for the office or other conducting of business, no pressure from spouse or companions to dress in certain ways.)

I go to my little work area in the basement or to read in the bedroom with a shut door during the times he plays the radio, watches TV , or DVDs . I have a special place for all my rock and fossil collections, my crafts, my plant hobby, my aquariums, and they stay in those areas. ( I guarantee they are not as organized as the parallel spaces alotted for my husband’s interests!)
Having a spouse with a craving for order has been a blessing, because he provides the structure and stability which I lack in my own organization skills.

My retreat from the radio and video/DVDs/television to my favorite nest ( recliner with fuzzy blankets) has been ongoing when I realized many years ago how upsetting most visuals/ and associated sounds are for me. He loves his movies and TV programs and in fairness I can’t ask him to stop listening and watching.

I have a craft closet and a work spot in the basement, my aquariums for my ongoing study of guppy genetics, and also my gardening as escapes whenever I need solitude or quiet. I go to the woods or the lake shores I love.
I have earplugs which I use when I can hear noises such as the neighbors’ loud radio when they sit outside on their patio or sun themselves by the pool. I am grateful that I am able to control my surroundings and schedule.

What is it like for older autistic people in care homes, dependent on others to arrange small things like lighting, food choices, temperature, sounds heard, comfort of clothing, bedding, arrangement of furniture, daily schedule, etc??? Every one of these things is so important to my senses in every day life!

Many of my struggles eased when I became able to make decisions like this for myself. I am so grateful that my present is more conducive to comfort and safety/ stability than my former lives. What can we do to make life more tolerable for those autistic people who are not as lucky/blessed/fortunate/ situated/ accommodated as I am?

Remembering the work days and my first marriage, all the social demands, the ‘eating out’ with other couples or co workers, the attempts at being in step with fashion and keeping up with news reports, discussions of current events, pressure to do things like join the company softball league or bowling team…. all gone. Fear and anxiety and desire to escape were constant and unending. I was always sick with headaches and stomach aches, overwhelmed and both misunderstood and misunderstanding.

I have already adapted and made my own accommodations. Even unknowing about the autism, I was able to find ways to cope with the symptoms of sensory and emotional overload. So fortunate!
Retirement is the best accommodation of all. I struggled with bullying and unstated/in completely understood or unclearly expressed or implicit and misunderstood expectations in almost every interaction with others.

Anxiety produced by going to work provided plenty of energy to accomplish things; I almost never disappointed in work performance, but co worker relationships were pure misery. Not understanding why this was so was an added burden. Self doubt, self blame, self hate. Why couldn’t I fix it??? What a relief to not have those every day stresses. Retirement removes all of that and allows me to follow inclination to research on the internet and in books, explore nature, choose my companions or choose not to have any.
My anxiety is leaving me gradually as I understand more about my autism, but also in my realization that I am ‘safe’ for the most part from the bullying and stresses of my work day. Of course I realize that quitting your job is not an option for most of us. The stress of finding a job that is tolerable and that we are able to perform, and still brings in enough income to afford housing and food is real, and unavoidable. I spent 49 years working, most of us will do the same to survive.
My improvement in my life and level of stress are due to the accommodations I hit upon accidentally, but that work very well for me in my current situation and my new understanding of my needs (something I really never gave much thought to before).