As a parent of a child with Asperger’s/high functioning autism, the key to getting through the holidays is to remember your goals:
1) Survival. If the kids live, you and your spouse make it, and all sundry friends and relatives are still kicking by the end of festivities – you’ve had a successful holiday.
2) Everyone makes it back home again. If you came home with the same number of kids you started out with (and they’re actually yours) and your spouse didn’t flee to someplace more peaceful, like a war zone – successful holiday.
3) No serious bloodshed. If no ambulances or police cars were called and no one was admitted to the hospital – it was a successful holiday. Emergency room visits don’t count as long as everyone comes home with the same number of functioning parts they started out with.
4) Property damaged caused by your family falls within your budget. If they break it and you can pay for it – yay. Successful holiday.
5) No friends or relatives that you want to stay in contact with are so offended that you can’t mend the relationship. Successful holiday, with bonus points if the people you didn’t like anyway decide to quit calling.
6) Very important – You still like your children and spouse, and they still like you. Not just love – like. As in, after you’ve had a day or two to let your brain unmelt, you’d enjoy each other’s company again. Total win – successful holiday.
That’s my list. I may have missed one or two items, but overall I think it’s a pretty complete and realistic set of goals. Note the things that weren’t on my list:
1) Having your kids eat everything on their plates at Grandma’s house. If your kid is a picky eater, bring along some food he likes. Stand up to Grandma, bypass whatever it is that he thinks is disgusting, and get something nutritious into him that won’t cause a fight. It’s far better to have to deal with a disapproving grandma than to have to clean up a screaming, puking child. Trust me on this one.
2) Having your child spend every minute socializing. He really can’t handle this. You know how stressful the holidays are on you – they’re way harder on him. Especially the socializing. Find a time when he’s in a decent mood, introduce him around to everyone and have him interact to the best of his ability. Then keep an eye on him. When you think he’s lasted as long as he’s going to, give him an out. Let him go someplace quiet where he can do something he likes and he has some control. Don’t send him in to watch TV with his cousins, because if they aren’t watching what he wants to watch, there’s going to be a fight. Instead, let him play with his favorite things (you did bring these along with you, right?) A book that captivates him, a handheld video game, his action figures, his blankie – whatever it is that makes him happy and de-stresses him. You want something that’s going to disconnect him from the world around him for a while and let him center himself. Personally, I am not above buying something new for this purpose. A little bribery so I can visit a little longer with Grandma? Oh yeah. Totally worth it.
3) Your child is charming and polite to everyone. Actually, this is a great goal – it’s just not very realistic. You can keep this goal and work on prepping your child all you want, so that one day he can be charming and polite to everyone. But don’t get your heart broken if he’s not quite ready for that this year. As long as his social skills are improving, don’t be too embarrassed if he does something other people consider rude or odd. It takes a strong parent to do this, but it’s really important. If he throws mashed potatoes at Auntie’s cat, just think of last year when he threw the gravy bowl at the cat. See? Progress. Last year was a broken antique, potential injury to the cat, and gravy everywhere. This year, it’s just mashed potatoes on the wall. Sometimes our kids will do things that embarrass us, but don’t dwell on it. Remember how proud you are of him too. Apologize, work on teaching him not to throw things in the future, and make sure to buy Auntie’s cat a really awesome Christmas present.
4) Compare your child to everyone else’s kids. Don’t even go there. Yeah, their daughter will be a gymnast competing at the state level and their son will be finishing his Eagle Scout award six years early. They’ll be going off to ivy league colleges with major scholarships because they’re so wonderful. Or they’ll be playing the cello at the White House’s Christmas pageant because they’re so brilliant. Whatever. First, remember that the parents are bragging. All parents do this and it’s okay, but they aren’t going to tell you the struggles their kids are having. If Junior almost didn’t get to go to start his career as a professional baseball player because they had that little thing to work out in court, you’re not going to hear about it. Second, remember that your kid is accomplishing things too. He didn’t start out where their kids did. He’s got a lot to learn about life and he’s doing that. He’s not only making progress – he’s succeeding. He is remaking himself on a level that typical kids don’t learn to do. Don’t ever sell him short. Yeah, learning how to conquer his sensory difficulties to the point where he can eat a sandwich even if bread is squishy, isn’t something that’s going to make your friends sigh with jealousy. But it’s important and he’s doing it. Besides, you can always do what I do. Casually mention something interesting your child did relating to one of his areas of interest. “Oh yes, we finally convinced James not to do any more physics experiments related to medieval weaponry in the house. Now he has a nice workspace of his own.” This is way better than saying, “We threw the kid outside after he broke the window by shooting marbles out of his toy crossbow.” See – it’s all in the presentation.
5) Be the perfect hostess or guest. Don’t kill yourself trying to make everything perfect. Enjoy your family and friends. That’s the point of the holidays. If this Thanksgiving is the one where you end up eating graham crackers and peanut butter off paper plates on a card table while watching your kid’s favorite TV show, he’s going to remember it as the Thanksgiving that rocked because he got to spend it the way he wanted to. He’s going to be happy. You find something that will make you and the rest of your family happy, too – even if it’s not what you envisioned as the perfect holiday.
So, go forth and have a wonderful holiday. Tailor it to suit your family. If anyone else doesn’t think you’re doing it right, they can bite rocks. Do something that you all enjoy. Take a camera and take a lot of pictures. One day, believe it or not, you’ll look back at today with at least a little bit of fondness. That’ll probably be sometime after you finish paying for all the stuff that got broken.
PS — If you like this post, feel free to forward a link to anyone you think may benefit: http://cassiezupke.com/2011/11/22/successful-holidays