New Year’s Eve. Fireworks. Parties. Celebration. Noise. Lights. Boom! Meltdowns.
The holidays can be especially hard on those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). The change in routine, the chaos that is preparing for the holidays, the family gatherings, and all the distractions and possible meltdown triggers. Just finishing up the Christmas dinners and presents and then right after comes New Year’s Eve.
I think it really depends on where you live, in cities there will probably be more fireworks… In Iceland, we go ALL OUT when it comes to New Year’s Eve. Just as midnight is about to roll in the sky lights up with bursts of green and blue and red and yellow, along with the crashing booming sounds that follow. It is a wonderful sight, to be sure, but for the little ones who are on the spectrum it can be the most terrifying thing, ever. I live in the city, and every frigging house, it seems, has their own fireworks show.
I have a love/hate relationship with fireworks. I love the way they look from afar, I HATE the way they sound and come at me if I’m close enough.. Then when all are going berzerk in the night sky, it is almost deafening. A firework display meant for the public is also both incredibly beautiful but terrifying at the same time. This year we chose a spot that was far enough away to watch but close enough to get the intensity of it all. It seemed to be a perfect spot, and I never felt the fight or flight kick in. My youngest, on the other hand, seemed to be very unsure. She wore headphones to block out the sound (somewhat) but she inched away with every blast. I had to keep a good grip on her, I was afraid that she would run off. She is one to run off on occasion with no sense of danger, right into the road if I don’t have a good grip. I’m thinking now that my focus on the little one kept me distracted from any possible issues I might have had with the display. But it went well, regardless. My oldest (ten year old) was incredibly excited and yelled “Wow awesome! Oh my god!” at every single one. It seems like only yesterday that he was the one holding onto me for dear life during one of these shows. But now it is his younger sister (nearly four years old) that I have to make accommodations for. She is more sensitive to sound than he ever was. Even with the headphones she complained about the noise. The public display wasn’t that hard for us. But when we got home, that is quite different. While we were firing our own it wasn’t that hard, but eventually she said “that’s enough”. It was closer so I’m thinking maybe that was more intense, I’m not entirely sure.
Bedtime. I put the little lady down at around eleven… it took a while to shoot off all the fireworks we had, with breaks in between. And she was so excited and over tired that I thought she would never go to sleep. Just as her eyelids were drooping, midnight was rolling around and the chaos that is New Year’s Eve here in Iceland ensued. If you google it, you can see pictures of an amazing display of fireworks over the capital. It is a sight to behold, seriously. But if you are trying to get an over tired ASD nearly four year old to sleep at the time that all of these go off… it is an entirely different story. I got lucky this time. She was SO tired that even though there seemed to be a war going on outside she just drifted off as if we were out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in nature that was peaceful and serene. And maybe because she fell asleep with all that noise it never woke her up. Me, on the other hand, I was so on edge that as soon as I saw her go to dream land I jumped up and had to go look. It wasn’t even excitement for seeing the pretty stuff in the sky but rather the constant banging and boom and explosions had my nerves on edge. Some were so loud that I jumped, startled, like a cat realizing there is a cucumber in it’s space that wasn’t there before.. Seriously why do people do that to their cats? Anyway, all things considered, it went really really well for us this year.
Last year was really really hard. So I took that into consideration and made the necessary accommodations and opted out of any sort of party that might make it more difficult for the little ones. We kept it at home, except for the quick stop at a public fireworks display. We had noise cancelling headphones and gave the kids a rest when needed. We also made it fun, messing with each other and joking around. We had a nice dinner (which the littlest didn’t eat, she had toast). This New Year’s Eve was pretty laid back, all things considered, but most important of all, the kids had fun and we were meltdown free. The littlest seems to be a bit sensitive today, too much of a good thing last night I guess.
In closing, to any new Autism parents that might be having a hard time with the holidays: It gets better. It really does. You learn through experience, what works and what doesn’t. Even if these past holidays were really tough, you can use that as a learning tool, and perhaps make new and better preparations for next time. And cut yourselves some slack also, because you are doing the best you can! I say this because I have seen in some online groups how hard the holidays were for many Autism parents, especially those who are newer to their little one’s diagnosis. As hard as the holidays were on these parents, they were just as, if not more, hard on the little ones. So do try to keep that in mind for next time. You are doing great and don’t give up. 🙂