• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Navigating the Holidays with Autism: Part II: Is your Aspie a Christmas Control Freak?

Autism Holiday Control Freak

Let’s talk about control.

Autistics have a deep seated need for control. A need for routine, and to control our environments is paramount. In fact, it is very difficult for us not to do things the way we have always done them; the way we know they should be done.  Unfortunately, my rigid, often completely inflexible thinking does not allow me to be flexible (I am working on it). The problem is when things don’t go as planned, as expected, as they should go, I come unglued. 

Children can have complete meltdowns with small changes in their routines, heck I can have a complete meltdown with small changes.  I even need to make a list of all the stores I need to shop in and in which order I will visit them.  Believe me these lists are well thought out, planned, and I have a reason for the order (although you may not see it). 

If my shopping trip, which is already a sensory nightmare, goes askew, I am done. I might as well go home, and you may be able to find me in the parking lot of a large shopping center in tears. I can’t get away from my plan; I need to follow it precisely. 

The same goes double for holiday preparations.  I am a complete Christmas control freak. I take way too long to pick out the perfect Christmas tree, and then figure out how many strings of lights it needs.  When it comes to decorating the tree, there is an order I must follow.  First all the white balls go on the tree, and then the red ones.  The red ones must be spread out evenly so they are not too bunched up and the dots of red are sprinkled through the spruce. Then and only then, do I begin to distribute the nicer ornaments, the heirlooms, and other decorations.  After that, garland, Father Christmas, ribbons, and the snow—in that order, no changes.


Needless to say, I am not very fun to trim the tree with. I don’t mean to be completely neurotic, I cannot help it. We MUST FOLLOW THE PLAN! Again, there is a reason for my plan, and a reason for the order we must trim the tree in, but if I begin to tell you what it is we will be here all day.  Why don’t they just trust me? 

In my last post, I discussed our problems with gift giving and receiving. We hate surprises! To be honest, surprises are stressful, and I can wind up a teary mess, as can my Aspie Teen.  Therefore, all gift giving is thoroughly planned out. I have lists of people, lists of gifts, prices, coupons, store locations—it’s very comprehensive. 

Before diagnosis I just believed as I was told, I was a neurotic lunatic!  There still may be some truth to that statement. But, now understanding my need for routine and order coupled with my need to plan and know what to expect, my family can now adjust.  I in turn can learn to let go a little bit knowing that many times it is just my autism jumping in and interfering with my flexibility. 

This year was better (so far), we all trimmed the tree, and I tried not to touch it too much.  I tend to re-place all the ornaments that everyone places because they are not in the right spots. This time I just handed the ornaments out—in order of course.  Then I saved the last few things that I couldn’t be flexible about to do myself. I spent much less time being annoyed, yelling, and making everyone re-do the tree.

No Surprises!

Now let’s go back to gift giving for a moment. I told you that we all make our Christmas lists.  This year, and he has done this every year, Aspie Teen is trying to micro-manage my Christmas shopping.  He always makes me a list (his Santa List) complete with prices and pictures (I wonder where he gets that from??), and then he starts to obsess about it. Adjusting his list, removing things, replacing things, finding better deals, and in general driving Mom crazy! 

He has asked me for the Assassin’s Creed Gauntlet. It is a replica of a weapon from one of his video games. The thing has been on backorder since October. Would you believe that he has been monitoring the backorder situation and has found that it is now available in limited quantities online.  Last night, I caught him researching what materials the thing is made of, some kind of polymer plastic, and something else (I wasn’t really listening too intently since he’s been driving me crazy about this thing since October). 

I tell him every year to make me a list of all his most wanted gifts, and we will see what he gets. (It was easier when he still believed in Santa!) It goes in one ear, and right out the other.  Every day so far since giving me his list, he checks on my progress. 

“Mom, did you buy…yet? Because …has it on sale right now.” He says. 

He is driving me absolutely bonkers, and making me wonder if I am this bad!
The answer: Yes. 

In fact, I buy my own Christmas gifts!  Then I tell my husband, “Here, this is from you.  These are from the kids…etc.” So unfortunately I must report that not only am I as bad as Aspie Teen, I am probably worse! 

Don’t be too dismayed, I drag my husband into the stores now and make him pick out his own gifts too.  There really is no reason to spend time and money on getting him something he doesn’t really want.  If I do pick up a gift without him, I always show it to him to make sure he will like it before I wrap it up and put it under the tree.  Poor guy, no surprises for him either—ever. 


Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.