Christmas can be a very magical time of year with Santa, decorations, presents, and family gatherings.
It can also be a very tough and difficult time for families with special needs children.
For many of us as parents, we are hanging on by a thin thread as we try to honor the traditions of our extended families while keeping our children with special needs happy and on routine.
My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 21 months and is non-verbal. He is now 5.5 years old. He doesn’t like the noise or chaos that gatherings bring. Sometimes lights and decorations can be too overwhelming. Most times he doesn’t care about Santa or the Reindeer.
He doesn’t open presents, dig into his stocking, or write a Christmas list. He can’t call in to talk to Santa on the local radio station. He eats the same two purées every day so chocolates and Christmas dinner are a hard no.
We can’t take him to church to celebrate the birth of Christ. He also doesn’t enjoy the hustle and bustle of public places the Christmas season brings so we avoid all those places from November to February. We don’t sing carols or travel to visit family.
The hardest part for many of us is that others do not understand how difficult the holidays can be for families like ours.
There is a longing for us to participate but there are also so many considerations. Sensory overload from lights, noise, music, laughter can cause excruciating and long-lasting meltdowns. None of us want to expose our child to the potential of that happening or to someone who doesn’t understand.
Many of us have learned and are still learning how to do Christmas in a way that works best for our families. Maybe we don’t wrap our kids’ presents; maybe we only have visitors to our house one by one; maybe we don’t put lights on our tree; maybe we don’t visit Santa at the mall.
My son likes to spend all holidays and special occasions in the same quiet, familiar way: curled up in his recliner watching YouTube videos like Home Depot Store Tours and Charmin’ toilet paper commercials, eating Chester’s corn twists with his mom and dad.
This may not be your normal but it is our everything.
To those of you who say that you miss something if you don’t experience Christmas through your child’s eyes, I say this:
Every day I get to experience life through the eyes of a very special little boy.
A little boy who finds pure joy and happiness in the simple things. He doesn’t ask for anything. If you could see his smiles and hear his happy squeals when we have a dance party, a new catalog arrives in the mail, or we turn on the sprinkler. Every morning he greets sleep-deprived me like he hasn’t seen me in 57 months even though it’s only been five hours (if I’m lucky). He is ecstatic to see me every single day—I don’t think there is anything better than that feeling in the whole world. He doesn’t care what you look like or the clothes you’re wearing.
Money and materialistic things have no value in his world. His currency is a connection from his heart to your heart and the sharing of simple joys—love, laughter, kindness, understanding, acceptance, and patience. Every day we celebrate progress, hard work, and determination.
I see magic every day as he grows in leaps and bounds and climbs giant mountains. I see magic in every step he climbs, every word he speaks, every kiss he gives, every bite that he consumes.
In his world, we live Christmas morning through firsts and milestones—they are all so new and exciting!
So, while you may experience the magic of Christmas through your child’s eyes on Christmas morning, I am so fortunate because I am able to experience the magic of Christmas—the pure joy and excitement you feel deep in your soul—through moments you can’t put into words each and every day through the beautiful eyes of my autistic son.