Kind words help families deal with autism holiday stress

Kind words help families deal with autism holiday stress


To the editor:

You can give a gift this holiday season that won’t cost you a penny, but will likely make the day of the person or family on the receiving end. The gift? A kind word, or better yet the gift of laughter.

Being out in stores, restaurants and other public places can be so stressful for parents, brothers and sisters of children and adults with autism. During the holiday season the stress is multiplied tenfold due to the sensory overload of the season.

For the child or adult with autism, shopping and other public places are a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells and ringing bells. This sensory overload can cause them to react in ways that may seem odd, or out of control to the general public: a child spinning or jumping in an aisle; a teen with their hands over their ears, loudly humming; adults making loud noises, rubbing their hands together while humming or clapping quite loudly; or any number of other sensory reactions in order to protect themselves from the sensory overload they may be experiencing.

Yesterday my adult son Andrew and I were shopping at Price Rite and as usual it was busy and fairly crowded. Andrew was managing the business of the store by singing, quite loudly, “Gobble gobble gobble, wobble wobble wobble, wookie wookie, wookie, cookie, cookie, cookie,” and on and on. He was really drawing attention since he is the size of one of the New England Patriots linebackers.

After a few minutes he gave up the singsong and got interested in buying food. Then we got to the register. Standing still and waiting is difficult and he started making loud “oh” and “ugh” noises. Ugh indeed, I thought. So I asked him, “Andrew, please quiet down.” He continued to make noises.

I asked two or three more times, when suddenly the lady behind us in line says to me with a smile, “Oh, let him go. Since we can’t make noises like that, he might as well.” Then she laughed, and I laughed and I felt so much better. That woman, whoever she was, really made my day.

So I’m asking each one of you who read this: When you see a mom or dad, or anyone who is with a child or an adult who is obviously having a challenging time, offer some kind words, a smile or even something to chuckle about. It’s a simple gift this holiday season that will probably be appreciated more than you could ever know.

Jan Randall