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Dec 15

Christmas and Autism

I love holidays. From the big ones like 4th of July to Halloween and Thanksgiving – I love it all. I love the little celebrations with corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day to the cards, children give to each other in their homemade boxes at school for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps it stems from my childhood memories of these holidays. My mom would always do at least a little something for the holidays. A breakfast dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day to years of memories of Halloween costumes, trick or treating and the countless traditions held for Christmas.

Once I became a parent, holidays was one of the few things where I was eager to have more kids and for those kids to get older so we can make new traditions and build new memories with my own family. As Brody got older and I patiently waited for him to notice and understand these holidays, his symptoms of autism increased. It quickly became that Brody enjoying holidays was far from my mind. Too important was Brody getting to the developmental level he needed to be, running around to appointments and getting therapies going. I still focus on those things until a holiday comes around and then the reminder is there, as one more thing I add to the list of what makes me feel separate from the regular, everyday life others lead.

Christmas has probably always been the toughest. It can be a selfish sadness because I do not get to have the same parenting experience as everyone else does around Christmas. No matter what I say, read or teach it seems at 7 years old, my son has no idea that we celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th and that is what Christmas is all about. He does not talk for weeks ahead of time about how excited he is for Christmas. He does not comprehend much about Santa Claus. On a less selfish note, I feel sad for Brody that he cannot express to us what he wants for Christmas, he does not understand asking Santa for presents or the concept of giving presents to others. (I know most kids have a tough time wanting to buy others presents but Brody does not comprehend the idea).

This year I have and continue to try to get my brain to bypass these negative thoughts. Like anything in life, focusing on the negative fills a person with sadness, discouragement and only gives birth to the idea of giving up and only being sad. I often feel my sadness is justified and wallow in it. I have instead tried to focus on the simple miracles of what Brody displays as remembering and enjoying about the holiday season. Firstly, the past couple years as we put up the tree and decorations he is so excited for it. He pushes it to be done at once. This year we bought a new tree and as soon as we brought it in the house, Brody insisted on getting it out of the box and for Jake and me to put it up. Then he looked for ornaments to put on and would not stop until it was all done. Though he did not tell me, he knew it was Christmas time, the tree goes up, and ornaments go on. Another way Brody has shown much excitement for Christmas over the years is through a few children’s Christmas movies. As this is still far from knowing that Jesus Christ was born in a manger, or to write a list and send it to Santa at the North Pole, it warms my heart because it is progress. Not only that, but Brody’s joy in watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and the Dr. Seuss’s Grinch is that same sweet innocence children show when believing in Santa Claus. Brody expresses his Christmas spirit and innocence when he lights up watching these movies. Brody quotes parts of the movies throughout the day. My heart and eyes swelled when for the first time hearing Brody sing Hark the Harold Angel’s Sing. Brody did not learn this from the hymns at church and Brody does not know what the song is about but he heard it on Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

Thinking of all these things is proof that Brody soaks it all in and though he rarely verbalizes what he sees and knows he can show us what he cherishes and loves this time of year. Maybe I am still a bit naive or nostalgic but I also feel this time of year has some magic and light in it and it speaks so fully to children and that is why I have noticed these things in Brody. His eyes sparkle throughout the season and I know he loves this time of year just like any other child.

As an adult woman and mother, this time of year I often think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The love she felt for her child speaks to mothers and those who love and cherish their children everywhere. We hold that baby in our arms for the first time and want to protect and cherish that child forever. It was a miracle that happened so long ago, but miracles, small and large still happen today. All I need to do is truly see and believe.

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