Autism and Holidays


Autism and holidays don't always mix.Sometimes things just don't mix, and sadly, all too often autism and holidays fall into that category.

NOT a routine time of year... The whole idea of a holiday makes it DIFFERENT from a normal day. It's a joyous, exciting time filled with visits, foods and routines that are anything but ordinary.

With autism's need for sameness, its love of routine and trouble with change, it's no wonder that autism and holidays don't mix!

When my son Lucas was first diagnosed with autism, I didn't grasp what that would mean for my family when holidays came. But dealing with autism and holidays taught me a lot about coping, adjusting and looking at the bright side.

Here are just a few of the things we've learned about autism and holidays:

  • Stay at home if you need to, especially when your autistic child is young. This may change over time, but to start with, make things easy on EVERYONE in your family, including yourself.
    We discovered that we really like staying home on major holidays; no traffic, packing, travel arrangements or other things to sap our strength!
  • Visit another time - If you want to visit, try doing it at a time other than a holiday, since autism and holidays have such a difficult time together. You'll save on travel time and have a much more relaxed visit.
  • Plan for it - To this day, when we visit Grampa's house he has a TV and VCR set up in an extra bedroom so that Lucas can watch videos while we visit with the grownups.
    Obviously, this isn't something we want to encourage. Let's face it, the two biggest problems with autism are communication and social skills, so it DOESN'T benefit an autistic child to be stuck in front of a TV by themselves. But for 2 or 3 afternoons a year, it gives us a chance to interact with family members, so we think it's worth the trade off.

Things will change - You have to decide what's best for YOUR family, but remember, things can change as your child gets older.

For instance, here's a tale about Christmas (below the photo)...

The Nativity, Lucas style (a train station).

Autism and Holidays, a Christmas Story:

Christmas time when Lucas was about 9 years old... I was listening to my favorite Christmas carols as I headed out to do some shopping one day.

As usual, my eyes filled with tears as I heard the familiar tunes and once again experienced bittersweet feelings; feelings spawned by the specter of another Christmas with autism, and of holidays filled with ghosts of Christmases past, present and future for myself, my husband and our kids.

I thought of the family gatherings in Virginia that we would once again miss because it was too hard to visit when we were busy keeping Lucas from breaking other people's things or opening other people's presents.

I thought of the children's caroling party in our neighborhood, which we could never attend due to Lucas' inability to understand the concept.

I got tired of just thinking about trying to explain to "Santa" what Lucas was saying.

I also thought back to Christmases long ago, when I could decorate the whole house and actually put presents under the tree without having them opened and/or destroyed as soon as they landed there.

I was angry and saddened that because of autism, holidays had become something I dreaded.

As I lay in bed that night, unable to sleep, I began to think very clearly, the type of thoughts that only seem to come in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping and we parents finally get to REALLY be alone with our thoughts.

I remembered that when Lucas was diagnosed, we were told that he would probably never speak, and that we might be looking at institutionalization by the age of ten.

I thought about the fact that Lucas made his own Christmas list this year, cutting out pictures from sale circulars and gluing them on paper.

I thought about Lucas and his brother fighting over whose turn it was to pick the TV show last night, just like regular kids.

Then I thought about that Christmas long ago, when a child came into the world and changed it forever.

And right then and there, God hit me upside the head and I finally got it.

Lucas and children like him are the best gift in the world. Because of him, my priorities are constantly being kept in line with what's really important in life.

Because of him, I see the world through eyes of pure innocence every day.

I have the privilege of knowing people who have dedicated their professional lives to helping children learn; people I never would have met if I didn't have Lucas.

Christmas will be great this year. We will stay home and enjoy each other's company, and live in our pajamas if we want to.

And I will rest assured that if I work very hard at it, maybe I can achieve the innocence, honesty and lack of guile that will help me be more like Lucas.

Because, unlike me, he's got a straight shot into heaven when all is said and done.

Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one!

Times have changed since then - When I wrote the above article several years ago, little did I know that in time, Lucas would be able to take the presents that I wrapped and place them carefully under the tree, and then leave them alone until Christmas morning!

Or that eventually we would have the pleasure of once again spending Christmas at my parents' home, and would actually enjoy it!

Like so much in the world of autism, holidays can become easier to deal with over time.

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