The holiday season is upon us in full swing. Family calendars become full with school functions, family gatherings and church services. All are meant to spread peace and joy further, yet the opposite occurs in our family. My 4-and-a-half year old daughter — my angel, Lilly — has autism. The cattle herd-like shuffling in winter coats from unfamiliar place-to-place proved a nightmare for her. I strategically planned my holiday outfits around needing the ability to lunge through the air to stop her from opening other children’s presents at homes and the decorative display presents in shops.
After the 3rd year of this madness, performing our family’s rapid “fire drill” exit just 10 minutes after arriving at a family Christmas party, we called it quits. Through tears and sobs by the entire SUV, we declared we were done: going “off the grid” as my husband declared on Facebook to be exact.
We soon realized that as much as we needed a time out to stop the madness of this horrific nightmare, it wasn’t the right solution either.
Now, in our 4th holiday season, we have a game plan that suits our family’s needs. Just like the beautiful snowflakes that fall — unique in their nature and appearance — so are our angels with autism. Listening to her needs, verbal or not, makes for a better holiday season.
I offer to host at my house, or accept an offer to a house or place I know my daughter feels comfortable in. We say “yes” to morning and daytime activities, and a big fat “NO, THANK YOU!” to nighttime parties and functions, for now. We have shifted our expectations and feel at peace with them. If my husband or younger daughter really want to attend a night function, we split up, and one of us stays home with our Lilly.
For me, the joy of the season looks like this: Watching my daughter hang her own Dora ornament on her 2-foot-high tree. It’s letting her use our Christmas cookie cutters to mold Play-Doh instead of help her younger sister and I bake Christmas cookies. And it’s about vetoing the Elf on the Shelf for another year because she won’t understand it yet, and that is okay with me.
— Michelle Fulton Steiner