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Autism and the Holidays

Many of us look forward to the holidays with excitement, joy and anticipation. However, not everyone. What does the holiday season mean to a family directly affected by autism?

Let's think about this for a moment.....you are about to become a parent. What are the things you are most looking forward to? Watching your child grow and develop, make discoveries, all the usual things, I'm sure you are thinking to yourself. How many of you would say you are looking forward to them seeing the Christmas tree on the morning of December 25, piled with presents that Santa delivered during the night? Or lighting the Hanukkah candles for each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah.

For families living in “The Autism World”, these may not be moments that are anticipated with glee, but with a sense of dread and foreboding. Our lives center around routine and predictability. We wake up the same time every morning. We have a schedule. We know where we need to be and the order that all events must occur. When we venture out into the world, we know exactly what path we are to follow. It's EXTREMELY rigid, but the predictability allows our kids to be prepared for what's coming. It makes them comfortable. And, when very little in the world provides them with comfort, we as parents do what we can to oblige in this small way.

The holidays are random. Stores are closed. Schools are closed. People travel on vacation or to visit with family. On Christmas morning, we gather around the tree to open presents. We spend a day in pajamas rather than getting dressed into jeans and a comfortable shirt. Then we spend the day playing with loot that was piled under the tree. We don't normally do these things. Their lives get turned upside down. And, in many cases, they just don't know how to cope. So they have meltdowns.

Now, many of you may be familiar with a toddler meltdown or temper tantrum. These kids will kick and scream. They will cry and the tears look like they will never stop flowing. But these are normally reasonably short-lived. After a few minutes they realize that they are not getting attention. Or, the cause of the tantrum is soon forgotten. And then they return to their happy selves.

That's not an autism meltdown. An autism meltdown starts like that. But they don't simply end. They can go for hours and hours if we don't step in. We live our lives prepared for what, in my house, we call the “A-Moments”, when our kids prove to the world that their diagnoses are real.

However, my family is among the lucky ones. Ballerina and Music Man are both verbal. They may have difficulties finding the words to effectively express themselves, but they can let us know when we figure out the problem so we can address them. We go over our schedule for the day shortly after they wake up in the morning. They may not LIKE that they aren't going to school, but they know how to cope. They understand that, just like on the weekends, there are days where the routine is still there, just different.

But that can't be said for many autism-affected families out there. This is the time of year where meltdowns are more frequent. In some cases, they almost feel constant. With a lack of effective or functional verbal language, many of these kids can't understand WHY their activities have come to a screeching halt, and you can't explain it to them. Families just go from one meltdown to the next. And these are the families that dread the holidays probably more than any other time of the year. These are the families for whom I feel for. These are the families that remind themselves that routine is coming back.....very very soon......they just have to get through these 10 days or so......

So, during this holiday season, I wish everyone a meltdown free holiday, regardless of what you celebrate!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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