The holidays are a wonderful time filled with holiday spirit, family, and moments that turn into life long memories. The holiday season has always been such a special time of the year for me, and I hold so many wonderful memories during this time from my childhood. Having a child with autism, I worried he would never truly “get” the magic of Christmas, the feeling of gratitude around Thanksgiving, and the moments with friends and family that I cherish the most. Special needs can change the way we “do” the holidays, but dealing with special needs doesn’t have to end the holidays.
By the time my son was a year old, we knew there was a problem. He had no joint attention, he wasn’t pointing, he had no words. He was more or less in his own little world, oblivious to the goings on around him. We began early intervention services around August that year, and I made it clear I wanted Christmas to be a big part of his therapy services when the time was right. Each year I made the same request-Make the Holidays special so that he may understand their importance. I’m so thankful his therapists joined with me to create magic each year. And, we didn’t stop with just Christmas. We had a theme for every occasion. We would work with pumpkins in the fall, do fun Halloween activities in October, work on giving thanks for Thanksgiving, do a Red/White/Blue theme for the 4th of July, and so much more. We didn’t merely expect him to catch on. Instead, we taught him each holiday. One Christmas season, his in home speech therapist had her husband dressed as Santa visit our home. He sat with my son, colored with him, read to him, and left him a stocking full of goodies. I could never express my gratitude to the hardwork and effort put in to making sure he really understood.
While my son developed a true understanding, and love, for the holiday season it hasn’t been exactly how I always imagined it. Call me crazy, but we love gifts around here. My son isn’t showered with new toys and treats throughout the year. He gets something small for his summer birthday, and then Christmas. That’s how my parents raised me, and that’s how I have raised him. But we have never been a family of only 2 or 3 gifts under the tree. I always wanted to shop for new toys for him, and I tried for years. Building sets or the latest and greatest tech gadgets were all his. The problem was, he didn’t want them. I was so caught him in buying gifts that I wanted him to want, that for a long time I neglected to get the gifts that he truly would love. I’ll never for the year I bought him eleven gifts, and returned all but one of them. It took me a long time to realize he wanted an egg timer much more than he wanted a bucket of Legos. This year, he wants a digital caliper and other measuring tools instead of the game console others his age are requesting. That has been the hardest part for me. With him being my only child, I’ve never really gotten to experience the joy of children opening toys for Christmas. I had to let go of the feeling that he wanted toys as I thought of them. Does it matter if he’s opening up the latest and greatest car set or an egg timer so long as it bring him joy? No . . . no it doesn’t. The gift does not have to be a traditional gift that “all the other kids” are getting this year. It’s not about that at all. It’s about spreading joy and cheer, and love. And if an egg timer and roll of paper towels wrapped as a gift can do that for him, then who am I to say otherwise?
Make Changes as Needed
We would love to make our rounds to all of the family, spending time laughing and reminiscing. But the truth is, we can’t. It’s far too over stimulating for my son to go from home to home, or to have a great deal of people come over to our home. He has to have a safe space to get away. So we pick and choose. We will rotate families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and even on different years. We try to visit no more than 3 or 4 between the holidays. We host a family Christmas part each year, and everyone-children included-understand that the upstairs is off limits. That is our son’s safe zone. When he feels like it’s just too much, or if I can tell it’s just too much, we retreat upstairs for some special computer time, etc.
Embrace the Differences
Most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace the differences. Autism and special needs has given us a tremendous blessing of never overlooking the small triumphs. We celebrate each and every victory, and that to me is the greatest gift of all. We may not experience the holiday season, or celebrate the holiday season, the way others do. But you know what, that’s ok. Because we still experience the joy of the season, and that is what truly matters.
Special needs definitely changes the way things are, but that doesn’t have be a bad thing. We have embraced the enormous blessing given to us in the form of autism, and other needs. This has given our family the ability to make our own new traditions, and see the world in a new and more magical way than I could have ever imagined. It can be a daunting task to juggle everything you want to do, or everything you have always done, during the holiday season, but if you take a step back and truly focus on what is truly important, they can go much more smoothly for everyone.
Special Thanks to Missica P. at Through the Open Window blog for this post.