Amy Ames Album: All God’s Children Living with Autism has a great track: Autism and Christmas If you have an eMusic account you can download for 49 cents or as part of your monthly downloads. I discovered the song on eMusic.
“Autism and Christmas just do not mix. Our son went ballistic it was a sad sight to admit.
Too much stimulation, decorations, and gifts…”
As a parent to two children with Autism this is a song I have had to hum to myself to make it through high stimulation Christmas events. The holidays unlike any other time of the year parents walk a greater balancing act to anticipate what is about to happen doing our best to create pleasant family memories for all, in moments that are often awkward.
My son is 13 years old. He still has meltdowns. At home I can prevent most of them anticipating what sets him off. Yet if I come to your Christmas party no matter how much fun it may be, he may just flip out and meltdown leaving me too mortified to enjoy myself that he will ruin the fun for everyone else. Since his autism is high functioning he may say extraordinarily inappropriate things such as making fun of charities, complaining about the Santa Claus myth, and piss off the rest of the room leaving everyone else to wonder if I ever took the time to teach him appropriately. As the evening of loud noises, flashing lights, in a new environment goes on the more irritable and brooding he will be.
My daughter is 10. She has high functioning Asperger Syndrome too. Her inappropriate manifestation is crafts, making them out of everything, everywhere, and NOT asking permission from anyone to do it. The jewelry I have lost over the years to crafts is staggering. If the impulse enters her mind to glue one thing onto another, make fringe out of the bottom of a curtain, pour out drinks to have the cans to make bracelets, or just touch things that a child her age should already know not to do. Your pets are not safe from her efforts to follow them everywhere they go, kind warnings when she arrives does not stop her because she does not have the ability to care if she upsets you. Again, I feel like everyone looks at me wondering why I have not taught her any better.
The party games for all of the kids to join into, not a good idea. Playing games, taking turns, being polite all take close supervision and correcting of my kids to get through one round. Then the meltdown if they don’t win. My son will accuse your 5 year old of cheating especially if he thinks the prize the younger kid got was somehow better.
Don’t expect my children to like any gift they receive. Upon receiving little trinkets both will usually reply that they were expecting something better. While I have tried and tried all of these years to teach them to be gracious, this is a skill that will never come naturally. While you and I know that the next door neighbor is pretty nice to be giving them a small box of chocolates, they expect a video game and will ask you why you didn’t get them one.
Then there are the gift cards. My kids obsess over theirs announcing to everyone how much is on the card. We went to a party and the hostess gave some kids $10 cards, and others $25 cards with the social rule generally that you say thank you for the card, but not announce it’s denomination. He got a $25 card so it went downhill for the kids with $10 cards.
Going to the company family Christmas party another bad idea. A day when it should be friendship and families, my son will point out to your kids where their parents sit on the org chart compared to his. One kid bothered him at a picnic and he ran over to me announcing “you need to fire this kid’s parents!” We can’t talk about work at home in fear that he tell someone what he hears us say about them. Working at home is not much easier with a son who has picked up a phone extension to tell me that it is “absolutely unacceptable that dinner is supposed to be on the table at 6 – and here it is 6:15 and still sitting in the oven!” Thankfully my client had a son with Asperger too so we could laugh about his formal complaint. I try to work with a babysitter downstairs only to have my older kids have a difficult time with the situation insisting upon coming into the office to complain that there is a stranger in the house. It looks like I have spoiled kids.
Parents of children with Autism are exhausted and crushed. We spend everyday trying our best to “teach” and “train” the Autism out of our kids. I completely understand why so many places online call my children’s diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome instead AssHole Syndrome. I have to admit that it is true. Where you and I understand the rules of social convention generally preferring NOT to be regarded as an Asshole – my kids do not care either way.
They are entering a world that has a great deal of hate toward their diagnosis. When my son insulted a girl on the bus her father screamed at me over that his school coached apology was insincere and showed no humility. No amount of explaining is going to work when parents expect a pound of flesh from someone over every slight their child experiences. I have had parents scream at me until I literally cry because they don’t believe Asperger exists and that somehow yelling crude abusive things at me will get it through my thick head to beat my child into submission so he will stop acting the way he does.
It is not just on the playground. Even the widely syndicated radio show host Michael Savage declared:
“They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life,’ ” Savage said during his show. ” ‘Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.’ “
Perhaps Mr. Savage did not get the memo that for many fathers it is just a heck of a lot easier to move on with their lives than stick around for the hard work of raising autistic children. Just ask my ex-husband who does nothing to help with raising his kids.
They will always be my babies, I love them dearly, yet logically I completely see how they prickle the skin of other people. I hold them responsible for breaking the rules, hurting other people, but in the end it does not change the fundamental fact that they do not understand that other people have feelings too.
I understand why the world would like an explanation for why my children turned out this way. All I can say is that I had two planned, middle class, chemical free, non-pesticide pregnancies after a pretty sedate life, and my natural child birthed breastfed children have Autism. I took every precaution, did every early childhood development activity imaginable, fed them healthy, and it still happened. I vaccinated my oldest, did not vaccinate my second born, they both still have it. My explanation is that their father and I are a bad genetic combination. I have two children with their stepfather who do not have any signs of Autism Spectrum disorders and have exceeded the development of their older brother and sister in developing social understanding. It is hurtful when at the grocery store the 13 year old is flipping out but his 4 year old brother is not, then inevitably some loud mouth points out this fact.
No one knows it better than their mother who receives the majority of their complaints where they truly believe the world does revolve around them. I don’t want them living at home forever. Every single day is executing the plan to get them into their own independent lives. I have them in activities, when they need it I home school, I have to work around their needs while trying to contribute to the family, I take them to doctors appointments, therapists, and IEP meetings. My house is labeled, high wear and tear, and a whole lot more cleaning than children at the same age who would be able to do their own laundry or wipe off a counter by now.
So take a listen to “Autism and Christmas Do Not Mix” by Amy Ames and do your part to understand what families with children who have Autism go through every holiday. We love our friends and family but it is just too hard to go to many of the parties and activities “normal” families enjoy each year.
If you want to help out a family with children who have Autism a great gift is to watch the kids in their own home for a couple of hours so their parents can get out and shop or enjoy a party without the kids. If you have children with Autism coming to your home be prepared with an area that is quiet outside of the excitement understanding that they may be most comfortable tuning into a quiet on their own activity. We have a friend who gives the kids models with a card table decked with newspaper which is a great treat. All of the kids with Autism or not set to work on their age appropriate projects with parents taking turns supervising while we each get a chance to visit.