December 22, 2011
By Dan Olawski
The first time we tried to introduce Mikey to Santa, he ran so far in the opposite direction that he came up behind Ol' St. Nick (think about it…you'll get it, heh, heh). Christmas, Hanukah, all of the holiday seasons, are often challenging times for our children with autism (and for us parents, too).
We celebrate Christmas in our home, and have always tried to have a traditional holiday celebration. Of course, all the standard elements are there: the tree, lights, music, Santa, presents, etc. Ah, but when it comes to autism, as we all know well, standard and traditional are not always standard and traditional.
As I mentioned, the whole Santa Claus thing didn't go over well with
Mikey (as a matter of fact, he didn't care for the Easter Bunny we saw
in the mall, either--but he absolutely loves when we see Chuck E.
Cheese…I guess giant walking rodents are more his thing). He's become
more comfortable over the past couple of years and now quickly
identifies the jolly, stout man in the red suit as “Santa” (or, lately,
the even cuter response when asked who Santa is: “Christmas”).
lights and music are even bigger potential problems for children with
autism. But as it was with Santa, repeated exposure in a positive way
(desensitizing) has helped Mikey to enjoy these beautiful aspects of the
Mikey's choice of music is often restricted to the “Bob
the Builder” soundtrack or something similar, so if one of his favorite
cartoon characters is singing a Christmas tune, he’ll pay extra
attention. Being in a classroom environment where music is one of the
tools used to teach has also helped Mikey to embrace all kinds of music.
Just another reason I firmly believe that art and music can be used as a
pathway to getting our children to communicate with us and to helping
them feel more comfortable in an otherwise confusing environment.
for the pretty, multi-colored brightness of the yuletide lights, my
wife and I felt warm hearts this year to see Mikey smile and stare as we
drove past the beautifully decorated houses in our neighborhood. We
didn't waste a second taking him to a drive-thru Christmas lights
display, and the excitement that we saw come over him was well worth
every penny of the donation fee. Of course, now daddy is feeling the
pressure to create a Broadway-show-quality lighting display at our home
(I'm afraid Mikey is out of luck on that one…yours truly is not-so-handy
with that sort of thing and my sad attempt at Christmas lights equates
to a lit snowman with a bad habit of falling over into pieces each
The remaining challenge of Christmas that Mikey still doesn't really understand is presents. The first Christmases after we entered the world of autism were a bit heartrenchining, as we would place a wrapped present in front of Mikey on Christmas morning only to watch him get up and walk away or at best be more interested in the gift's box. But we've persevered every Christmas (and birthdays, too) and Mikey is to the point where he’ll rip open his presents' wrapping paper on his own now. We’ve also taken to bringing him to Toys 'R Us and letting him walk in front of us by himself as we watch what toys he'll walk up to or what keeps his interest. At least this way, if we buy those toys for him, we feel like he sort of gave us a Christmas list.
Helping our children with autism through this time of year takes the same focused steps we use every day: patience, love and awareness. Those are the gifts we give our children on a daily basis…no holiday needed…no gift wrapping required.
So, when the holiday is over, the guests have gone home, and the house is a mess, embrace what remains…the true meanings of the holiday (peace, love and family). Hug your child, tell them you love them, and be thankful for the gift you hold in your arms.
Topics:Living with Autism
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