When the holiday season approaches it’s safe to say that with it comes a variety of emotions. As families gather for special meals and celebration, this is the time of the year that strikes fear in the hearts of autism families, especially those who have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
As we enter into December, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or other, this often means dressing up in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, fancy holiday clothes of some sort. We buy the perfect special outfit and cut out the tags and try it on ten to twenty times before the impending big day, when we will expect our child to actually go out in public wearing it. We start scouring stores for healthy sweet alternatives, without dyes or preservatives, organic, and non-GMO. We must identify what has gluten or dairy or even worse, nuts. But no matter what, there is always way too much sugar for our kids. We know who will pay price of just a little treat, with hyperactivity, sleepless nights, and the inevitable irritability after the sugar crash!
We as parents of SPD kids gracefully turn down the endless string of parties, which present huge challenges for parents in terms of schedules, predictability, consistency, and special diets. School is out on break through New Years, and we wonder how will we fill our days without the foreseeable meltdown. We try hard to come up with gifts for our non-verbal kids who don’t play with toys. We listen to our friends talk about the trip they are planning to visit out-of-town relatives, and we wonder where might be a good place to take a sensory overloaded, oppositional defiant, obsessive compulsive, high anxiety kid for relaxation …
We’ve already made it through the labyrinth of Halloween decorations, costumes and candy. We’ve shown gratitude over a dinner-size lunch that our child had the impulse control to wait for while everyone said what they were thankful for before digging in. And now, as Christmas carols echo everywhere, we try and avoid the crowds and the traffic often to no avail. We smile through our fear of what the new year will bring. We make resolutions that we will be able to juggle more balls than last year, learn something new, stress less, and find a better balance.
But at last, when the kids are back in school, the new year is underway, and the dust has settled from the whirlwind we call the Holiday Season, we have some time to ponder. Parents everywhere breathe a huge sigh of relief that we made it through the precarious landscape. We can reflect and give ourselves a pat on the back for having been prepared and even when not, for having navigated the unexpected. We think about all we have received, this year and years past. Not only material gifts but the support, guidance, and patience of friends and family, the strength we have gained over the years as we forge new ground, always raising the bar for our special children. We contemplate the laughter, the joy, and the surprises when our sons or daughters with autism sat longer than we expected, tried a bite of a new food, or made eye contact for the first time with a certain family member. We enter the new year recognizing that however imperfect we feel as parents, we know we have been given a unique perspective through our special children’s eyes. We are here to receive their love and radiate it right back out to the world.