Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Straight Talk


This entry is definitely not for young children, and I doubt young children are reading my blog, anyway. But I couldn't live with myself if I were the one to take the magic out of any child's holiday...

That darned Tooth Fairy! It all has gone down hill since she came into our house. I always enjoyed her (or him, to be politically correct) as a child, but we are not enjoying each other's company as adults.

When our older son lost his first tooth, I was ready! As a good mom to autism, I prepared a social story for him to explain what was happening. Social stories are a wonderful tool for people who become confused while trying to process spoken words. Sometimes, breaking down a situation into pictures and simple text make that situation much easier to understand.

I've become a pro a quick social stories. With the help of a computer, I can find simple images on just about any topic I need. All I need to do is print them out, put them on paper and attach simple text. Voila! A social story is born.

My social story for our son losing his first tooth basically explained that his baby teeth were there to hold a spot for his adult teeth, which were growing up in his mouth. When it was time for the adult teeth to appear, the baby teeth would step aside so that the adult tooth would have room. This was a good thing.

AND THEN, if we put our baby teeth under our pillows, a happy little fairy would come into our rooms and exchange our baby teeth for a toy! (We used little toys because our son had no concept of money) It was magic! It was exciting! How great this would be!!

Well, except for the fact that, when you stop to think about it, how creepy is it that someone was sneaking into your room while you were asleep? Even creepier was the fact that this person was reaching under your pillow and you didn't know it. Still creepier was the fact that THIS PERSON WAS STEALING YOUR BODY PARTS!!

Many people with autism are this literal. Tall tales, myths and even abstract sayings are lost on them. I had no idea that our son would have this issue because, after all, he was basically non-verbal.

How excited we were for him to wake the morning after his visit from the tooth fairy!!! His tooth had been exchanged for a couple tiny plastic boats. I knew he was awake, and I had my eyes glued to his video monitor. Wait! He's found them! He's holding them and getting out of his bed! Oh, I can't run fast enough to the stairs to see what he's going to do! I bet he's going to walk out of his bedroom door and take the boats to the bathtub! How exciting!!!

I made it to the bottom of the stairs just in time to see those tiny boats flying through the air with one indignant toss. What? It can't be. He must just be cranky. But, later that day, I sneaked them back into his room only to see him chuck the boats down the stairs with disgust. No Tooth Fairy gifts for him!

For years after, I tried the Tooth Fairy gifts, and I got the same reaction each time. Yes, I am slow to learn. I just wanted to be certain as it seems so ... DIFFERENT to not participate in this tradition.

But that is exactly one of the pitfalls of his autism. He views the traditions as silly and sometimes even disgusting.

So, tell me, what, then, is a mother to do about a fat, jolly man that somehow makes his way down a chimney in order to place gifts in a house full of sleeping people?

And, around this time of year, how do you explain a rabbit being able to walk on his hind quarters, carrying a bag and handing out baskets of goodies to children everywhere?

Yeah, I thought so. No real answers here, either.

As his parents, we can't help but get wrapped up in the excitement of the holidays, remembering our own experiences as children waiting for Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. It's hard to imagine someone viewing these things as unsavory, but it is true. And, we find that often he isn't even excited about the presents. It's all too much.

Over the years, we've learned to offer the gifts and take whatever reaction he gives to us. Sometimes, he shuns the holiday with all its celebration completely. We just have had to accept that and not try to make him live a life that is not naturally his own.

Secretly, however, I always want to see the reaction. I want to see the joy, the laughter and the happiness. I think I will always want that for him keeping sight of the fact that this is my wish for his life but perhaps not a wish he has for his own life.


  1. So complicated all the rituals that society around us is enjoying and expecting - then there's our own expectations and memories - and then there's our children's. Must admit I'm kind of happier now that F knows the truth behind the stories but I know for some parents that's a really magical part of being a parent. I think you find your own magic where you can though, I know when you've described moments when your children got excited about something new or did something that marked a new development, I could hear the magic there.

  2. Special needs parents are constantly redefining for everyone in their lives. It isn't a matter of want but a matter of must. You are right.