Unfortunately, many children on the spectrum may be tuned out or just not interested in some or all that comes with the holidays.We expect the holiday excitement we develop as parents to be contagious and easily passed along to our kids from the very beginning and we certainly don't anticipate they will be disinterested. Typically, young children readily embrace the routines and rituals we offer without question. Eventually, the anticipation becomes mutually reciprocal and inspires ideas and activities that create new memories for the next generation.
As young adults, some of us can lose interest in the holidays and become Grinch-like or mumble a few bah-humbugs. Yet when we become new parents, we assume having children will reignite a new level of anticipation to the season that may have dimmed over the years. In addition, the holidays with young children in the picture are bound to trigger our own childhood memories and renew our feelings of excitement.
Our past experiences will always color the way we envision our holidays and how we want them to unfold. My husband and I may have different opinions when it comes to celebrating the holidays but we do our best to understand where each of us is coming from and show respect for each other's feelings. Despite our sincere attempts to accommodate our individual traditions and wishes, differences of opinions and attitudes sometimes arise.
But how do we deal with the disappointment that comes when our child with Autism does not reach the level of interest in the holidays that we hoped for?
What if your son with Aspergers does not want to help decorate the tree or your daughter with PDD-NOS shows no interest in gift giving?
What does a parent do when the spark and exhilaration for the holiday season is not present in their child?
Here are some suggestions for parents who find themselves dealing with such a situation.
- Accept reality. Acknowledge that your child may never be exuberant about the same things you are and reframe your vision of the holidays. This is just another exercise in accepting your child for who he or she is and honoring and respecting those differences.
- Examine your intent. Based on your values and your long term goals for your child ask yourself, What do I want the holidays to mean for my child? What message do I want to impart? This offers any family a wonderful opportunity to examine the real meaning of the holidays.
- Don't take it personally. This is not about you - it is not a rejection of who you are as a parent. Our job as parents is to expose our children to our values and way of life while teaching them to become independent thinkers and doers.
- Lower your expectations. Knowing what you know about your child's nuances, sensory sensitivities and ability to communicate remember to customize your expectations accordingly. Think out of the box when it comes to finding ways to engage them and get them to participate.
- View it from their perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and force yourself to walk through the holiday season in them. Pay attention to what might be getting in their way - situations that have the potential to cause anxiety or communication problems that might be causing roadblocks - and do your best to address these issues and make adjustments accordingly.
- Know how much to push. All children need to be motivated at times, even those not on the Autism spectrum. If your child is not interested in a certain activity, always start small by gently encouraging them to hang one ornament on the tree or give them the task of lighting one menorah candle.
- Pay attention to siblings. Find a way to honor the things your other children enjoy around the holidays even if it means hiring that special sitter, leaving your child with Autism with relatives or taking turns individually as parents. Trying to accommodate your neuro-typical children so they don't feel captive to the world of Autism is a challenge but can be accomplished with adequate preparation and planning.
All in all, don't over accommodate your child with Autism at the expense of everyone else's fun. He or she needs to learn that the world does not revolve around him or her and they should be expected to participate together as a family in certain activities when appropriate. Keeping the information presented above in mind will not only help you shift your mindset but will also guide your decision making as well.