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Keeping The Holidays Merry For Your Loved Ones With Autism & You

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year?” Hmmm…, for many of us with loved ones on the autism spectrum, “wonderful” could be interchanged with “harrowing,” but it doesn’t have to be so, and here’s four ways how:

Now before I begin, I will confess, I’m not an expert. I have just learned to roll with the tide and each wave with my nine-year-old nonverbal daughter with autism.

Numero uno — Forget the competitive, self-imposed daring you see on social media. You see Facebook posts with parents who took their children to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or photos with Santa at the mall. Listen, I know my daughter, and there is no way in hell that I am going to take her to a place, where I have to be afraid that she is going to start shrieking because of the crowds, loud noises or bright lights. No disrespect to the parents who try, but I refuse to be cajoled into thinking, “I should do the same because I don’t want my daughter to miss out.” I know what my daughter can take, and I refuse to force her into an environment that may seem threatening. I’d rather take her locally to the Beach 116th Street Christmas Tree Lighting that is happening this Saturday, December 2 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., where she will be surrounded by her mom, her dad, always-fateful nana and great-grandmum, and the community she knows.

Numero dos — Holiday photos. After two years in succession, paying a crap load of money for professional photos to be done, in competition with those ever-organized and not to mention, early bird parents, who have their holiday photo greeting cards in the mail before Thanksgiving, I gave up. First of all, I’d rather do it at home in front of the tree with my daughter dolled-up, giggling, as I make monkey faces to get her to smile and by some miracle, get a picture-perfect photo. So what if I don’t send them out until New Year’s Eve? The important thing is that my beautiful daughter is immortalized forever. (Though I must admit that our family across the pond in England and Italy and even further in Madagascar, complain that they always receive the card in late January!). Ahhh…so what if I am a bit tardy. Doesn’t she look adorable anyway?

Numero tres — Gifts! My family drives me crazy with the assault of questions about what is the perfect gift they can buy. Two years ago, my dad bought this gigantic football (soccer ball) that after being blown up, couldn’t fit in the car. Maybe some of you saw me rolling this gigantic ball from the Mobil gas station on Beach Channel Drive. Supposedly the ball is good for children (and horses?) with sensory needs. However, after taking her to the beach a few times to roll on the ball, I gave up, and now, it is taking up a huge space in the garage. (If anyone has a horse that could play with the ball, email me: kami@rockawaytimes.com). Then we got this huge, Barney-colored, donut-looking thing that she can roll in. Well, after my crafty daughter learned how to deflate it, the donut is now well-packed under the bed. My advice? Just buy what you think your children would have fun tinkering with, even it is just a ball of yarn. However, in all fairness, there is a plethora of websites where you can purchase gifts for children with special-needs, categorized by what I term, ‘special-bility,’ (instead of disability), age and even therapist-recommended picks. My favorites are funandfunction.com and fatbraintoys.com

And finally, numero quatro: Family gatherings. So, the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins get together to share a meal and gifts, all in the spirit of celebrating the holiday. That’s great! However, my experience has taught me to not pressure your special child to engage. My daughter prefers to run around the house, play in her room, and pop out when she feels like it. Our special loved ones are more independent than we think, and are wise enough to not buckle under the pressure to be social. Some family members may intervene and say, “Where is (name), bring him/her out so I can give her a kiss” or “I want to take a family photo.” Take it easy folks and be brave. Just say, “Give (name) a chance. The day is not over yet!”

Just keep in mind that the magic of the holidays — is not in the grandiose number of holiday events and activities you attend with your loved ones with autism, nor picture-perfect holiday photos, neither the most expensive presents — all they need, and YOU need, is each other’s PRESENCE! So live it up and enjoy each moment, even when that seemingly perfect moment culminates with the entire family’s eyes bulging and teeth bared like a deer caught in headlights!

Speaking of presence, tonight, Thursday, November 30 at 7 p.m., is the Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families support group meeting at the 100 Precinct (92-24 Rockaway Beach Blvd.). We are hosting a special forum — Building Autism Awareness with the NYPD — with our local Neighborhood Community Police Officers. This is an event not to miss, as this will be a unique opportunity for you to participate and listen in on an open dialogue with our community and police officers about training they receive in dealing with people on the autism spectrum.

For more info., email: ourartisticchild@outlook.com or check out our Facebook page: Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families support group.

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