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Making the holidays work with autism

Posted Dec 03 2012 1:34pm

Sometimes when you have a child with autism, you have to make tough choices.  During the holidays , this becomes more prevalent.  If you let the activities and events take over then you have meltdowns and sensory overload.  This makes for the worst Christmas memories.  It is not fun, believe me.  You have to be bold and courageous to do what your child needs not what everyone expects of you.

For many years, we only celebrated the holidays at home. It was important that Logan feel comfortable in his surroundings and that he have a place to retreat when it got to much for him.  If you wanted to see us for Christmas then you came to us.  We did not attend any celebrations outside of our home.  Yes, the celebrations were still there.  We simply declined the invitation.  To all of them.  Family or non family, it simply didn't matter.  We didn't go no matter how guilty we were made to feel . Sometimes  it became overwhelming to know that everyone was having a great time without us. To say that our feelings got hurt during those dark years would be an understatement.

Logan was unable to navigate the holidays and all the sensory overload that it entailed.  We accepted his limitations and worked with them.  Being a parent means that even when you want to go and feelings are hurt because you didn't go, you still make the hard decision to do what is in the best interest of your child.  Being a parent of a child with autism means that you make those decisions more often than not.

I am able to say that after a few years, it got easier.  We had some close friends and family that accepted our decision and made it work.  They graciously started to come to us to celebrate the holidays.  They accepted that we knew our child best and worked within our limitations. Some did out of generosity and some did out of neccessity.  We still had some balk when we stuck to guns and wouldn't go to them or leave the house on Christmas Day.  We were firm and loving.  Ok, we were always firm. I'm not sure we were always loving about it.  Frustration has a way of making people react before they think. Not that it is an excuse for being unlovely.  More of a justification for being less than lovely about having to say for the 4th year in a row that no we won't be attending your Christmas Eve meal with all the cousins from Texas that Logan has never met.


In the end, the rules we had to lay out to make the holidays successful for Logan made our holidays that much better.  He thrived in his familiar surroundings.  There were less meltdowns because he could retreat to his room when it got to be too much.  This made him a happier child which made us happier parents. He trusted us to put his needs first.  We didn't let him down which enabled him to trust us to do more and more with him.  It made for nice Christmas memories instead of terrible ones.  In the end  that's all that matters anyway. We have some fun traditions that we still do even though they aren't necessary.  We started them because of autism.  We do them now because we love them.  That's what I want Logan to remember about Christmas. Fun times making memories and traditions to pass to his children.  Autism or not, that is really what every parent wants in the end.

In case you were wondering , here are our rules.  We don't need to stick with them  as much as we did when he was younger.  Do what works for your child.  Be bold and courageous.

  1. We don't deviate from the schedule.  There is a time and an order for everything for a reason. 
  2. We don't go to other people's houses where there are lots of noise or people that Logan doesn't know.  We also don't go to houses full of other children regardless of their age or blood relation.
  3. We don't open presents anywhere but at our house. 
  4. We don't open presents all at once.  The noise from the paper bothers Logan.  Not to mention that he can't handle the surprise of not knowing what is in the package.  We won't even start to talk about the social graces of accepting a present that you didn't particularly want.
  5. We don't leave our house on Christmas Day. 
  6. When all else fails, remember Rule #1.  We stick to the schedule and routine at all costs.
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