Autism Families Share the Special Ways They Celebrate the Holidays

As a parent to a child with autism spectrum disorder you already know, there aren’t any ‘right’ answers. Some kids love the lights and sounds of the holiday season, and there are kids who cannot walk through a busy mall or sit on Santa’s lap. There are children who enjoy opening presents, and there are those who don’t respond to gift-giving and leave the room. Some kids with autism sit at the table and eat the holiday foods, and others do not. Every child has different needs and limitations—and it’s okay. Your family is special and you should do what works best and makes you happy.

As we head into the holiday season, focus on creating together-time that works for your unique family. It doesn’t have to be perfect—it just has to be filled with love.  Let’s celebrate!!

Natasha Combs
, Teacher

Another Christmas season is around the corner, and I am already prepping for the obvious challenges associated with the holiday season and my son’s autism. It’s not that Charlie doesn’t understand Christmas, he just does it differently than most people. And year after year, it has fallen upon me to remind to my family and friends about the complications and awkward moments in respect to gift giving and receiving.
Fortunately, Charlie doesn’t have sensory processing issues and does not feel overwhelmed by all of the stimuli.

My difficulties surrounding the holidays begin with the gift list. My son is not into pop culture, plain and simple. He doesn’t care what his peers are wearing or need the newest, coolest electronic device(s) to meet his techie needs. He has never had a gaming system and flatly refuses to show interest.
Like most autistic children and adults, his interests are narrow, and that makes it very difficult to find the perfect gift for him. My family usually asks, “What can we give him?” My consistent reply for nearly two decades has been, “I don’t know, but as soon as I do, I’ll let you know!”

These days, if he opens a gift that does not interest him, he simply tosses it to the side and asks if there are more presents. The uninitiated bystander might view this behavior as rude or greedy, but we all know nothing could be further from the truth. Charlie has no guile. He speaks his truth with very little filter and does not understand that his behavior might be off-putting. His social intelligence is not well developed and can be hurtful to those that don’t understand him.

All in all Christmas in our household is not terribly different from most homes. There is laughter, the inevitable meltdown or two, good food, a chance to reflect upon the importance of family, and the inevitable end of the day exhaustion.

Natalie Marsh, Director of Sales

The holidays are stressful for every family it seems, but for an autism family, the stress is multiplied by the variables of the symptoms of the disorder. I have four children, two of whom are on the spectrum. They are all grown now and the stress of the holiday season has lessened for us somewhat. However, when they were younger, it was often very difficult to keep the ‘happy’ in the ‘happy holidays.’

My autistic children, like many alas, were not too well understood or tolerated by all extended family members so this made for some tense holiday gatherings at various extended family households. I found, through the years, that it was not worth the hassle or heartache of trying to get some relatives to accept my children and be flexible in the holiday traditions so that my children could attend happily. My best piece of advice for you for keeping your autistic children happy through the holidays is to be willing to skip out early or totally on some family events where others will not be accommodating to your children’s special needs.

Some distant relative might not be as understanding. If so refer back to my main piece of advice and cut that relative out of your child’s holiday time.

Lastly, I suggest you take the time to enjoy your holidays. Take some time ‘off’ and do the things that make your holidays happy. Splurge on a gift for yourself. Eat the cookies that Santa leaves behind. Santa always leaves me some ribbon candy and chocolates in my stocking. Don’t forget it is your holidays as well as your children’s holidays. Make them happy holidays for you all.

Brian Holbrook
, Entrepreneur

We all can relate that life is full of constant change. A few we expect, like the changing of the seasons, which brings about the bustle of the holidays. Though some changes turn our world upside down permanently. For a large number of people, the holidays create a happy atmosphere in an otherwise  cold winter season giving us a reason to cook, clean, and to shop for the people we love.

Autism is a word that most have heard and yet seldom understand. A word in which seems to capture all those happy and joyful sounds, smells, and changes, therefore, turning the season into something with a dismal outlook. 

Schedules are changed, smells are changed, and sounds are increased—life seems severely altered. Life with autism can bring those special events to screeching halt, but there is another way.

Holidays for us do not look much different from the rest of the days of the year. Yes, we decorate, but very minimally. Yes, I cook, but nothing out of the ordinary and I do not force my children to eat anything they do not wish to, even if everyone expects me to. Yes, I shop, but I do it all online when they are peacefully asleep while I secretly listen to Christmas music that may upset them. You see, although American life promotes the flashy, the dazzling, the extravagant, life with children with special needs doesn’t have to look the same.

It has to fit you and your family, or it’s not peaceful and does not produce those silent nights. Sleep is hard to come by in my family, so the holidays for me mean that everyone is happily tucked in their beds at the expected times.

Over our almost 10-year journey with autism, we have found peace as a family in delivering our children the daily expectations carefully planned out the night before an event. For extra special gatherings, which we keep to a minimum, we even start speaking about it daily, weeks before these special holiday gatherings so that this way everyone has a more peaceful and happy holiday season.

I hope that you learn to enjoy the minimalistic aspect of the holidays and to cherish your child’s peace, at all costs, during this hectic time of the year!