Saturday, November 12, 2011


Well, my least favorite holiday is just around the corner. Here and now, I'm going on record to say that I really dislike Thanksgiving.

Yep, that's right. The one holiday that beckons us to be humble and grateful is the one holiday that leaves me flat. I'm not proud.

At its most basic level, Thanksgiving is a social holiday where people gather around food---no, it is where they WAIT FOREVER in order to gather around food. Very often, family is gathered in tight spaces, pacing the floor or making casual conversation until the food is ready. Then, all enjoy the feast while chatting happily around the table(s).

Let's see: my kids have autism, the mere definition of which includes social impairments. Social gatherings are a great effort for our family, and one of our sons runs hard and fast in order to get away from them. Sure, we used to take him, anyway. He'd pace, cover his ears and try to find something--usually a vacuum--to play with repetitively in order to shut out the chaos.

Lol. That doesn't usually go over well. People are awfully picky about kids playing with their beloved vacuums. Lol!

Forget about traveling to see members of our collective family. The break from school has already upset routines. It's hard enough to deal with sleep and behavioral issues that come along with this break, but to add to it travel--with its different beds/bathrooms/routines--in order for our children to attend a gathering they can't tolerate? Ugh. I'm not a machine.

I must also not forget to mention that accompanying autism in this house is a whole host of gastric issues, and, to be honest, I recognize that nobody likes to cook for a special diet on Thanksgiving.

That's alright. I'm used to cooking our childrens' food. I pack it everywhere I go, and I can make a great allergen-free feast. However, with one son trying to dip his hand compulsively into food that makes him sick, and cross contamination naturally running abound, we have struggled with keeping him safe. After a couple years of playing the game and attempting to celebrate the holiday the way it has always been done, my husband and I bowed out.

I decided that I would make a dinner that is free of all of those items that offend our boys' gastric systems. It was tricky at first, but, ahhhh, the relief of knowing that our older son could touch anything and not get sick! Priceless!

Unfortunately, people who don't HAVE to eat allergen-friendly food don't particularly like to do so--especially on Thanksgiving. We've had little success with hosting people when this food is being served. And, let's be honest, our boys don't like the food either!

Oh, that has nothing to do with the fact that the ingredients are free from allergens. It's the fact that, to them, the food isn't normal. One of our sons eats the same thing every single day. We've tried food exposure programs with him. I expose him to different foods continually at meal times, and, still, he won't change his ways. He likes his limited repetoire. It's predictable and safe. Our other son gags on most things with a mushy texture, and, well, meat is something he has a great opinion about. If it's a chicken nugget or bacon, he's good to go! Otherwise, his exposure to meat is limited to a "no thank you bite", and that's it.

I know when I'm cooking that only my husband is going to appreciate this feast. We are going to set the table where my boys are not able to even sit and eat (formal dining for a kid who can't sit long enough to attend to a meal? Really?), give them food that they won't want, and power through it for about ten minutes. Older son will leave the table first and demand the car while the younger son begs to follow. Dinner is over. I'm exhausted, and my kitchen is a mess. Ten minutes. This is what we get out of the holiday.

Yet, I still cook. I mean, I couldn't just give up, right? I had to keep exposing our boys to the holiday even if they didn't like it...didn't I?

Out of obligation, I do this every year. Even if they don't appreciate it, as their mother, I feel the obligation to provide the memories. And, if, in the end, Thanksgiving isn't their favorite thing despite the effort, that's ok. I will keep trying, and we will all endure.

It's a long and lonely day. I'll not pretend otherwise. It is one of those days when we feel the weight of special needs the most. For, after that disasterous meal, what is there to do? The malls are closed. That is just tragic in our household. There are no stores or carousels open so that our older son can calm himself with his familiar haunts.

Usually, he ends up at the airport. Airports don't close for holidays. Thank goodness. At the airport, our older son can ride the escalators and elevators until his heart is content. And, by the way, we aren't alone in this.

My husband and older son regularly bump into other members of the autism community during similar trips on holidays, people who, like us, were running down the clock with their child by trying to keep the familiarity. They exchange knowing glances and waves as they pass by one another.

My fellow special ed moms and I vent through texts and e-mails.

"I'm in a 1,000 sq. foot house that is packed with about 25 people," one message would read. "Meltdown is imminent."

"He's crying over everything, and I'm being told that he's spoiled. We are already in meltdown mode," another would read.

"She wants to watch nothing but her SpongeBob video, and the family is watching football. Meltdown imminent here also," is a third response.

I participate in these messages yearly, as I am alone in my house, happy for the comraderie of my friends. I often think, well, here are some issues we have avoided. In fact, we have avoided A LOT of issues. Yet, it was an isolating decision.

But, still, I realize that we were all feeling isolated in one form or another. Once you become a parent to special needs holidays are seen through an entirely different lens.

So, I sit around this time every year, struggling with thoughts on how to create a new Thanksgiving for our little family. A movie after the meal? No. Our older son can't tolerate it. A hike at one of the local parks? Ugh. Our younger son hates anything that resembles exercise. The path forward is still eluding me.

Perhaps in a few years tolerance levels will change. But, for now, as the majority of the country sits with family to celebrate over a feast, this special needs family will likely be at the airport--giving thanks for our country and what it provides for us, but not really enjoying autism.


  1. I have been to many holiday functions that ended in meltdowns. It was the crowds, the noise, the lack of familiar surroundings. Over the years, Bear has come to LOVE holidays. All holidays. The idea of family tradition...the routine of it...the a necessity for him. So, we made our own rules and traditions. For Thanksgiving, we make muffins and drink hot cocoa with whipped cream (it must be like this always) and watch the parade from beginning to end. Sometimes we do dinner home and sometimes we go out to dinner. Bear has never met a restaurant that he didn't like (food being his favorite thing next to holidays). If it's just us, he's comfortable and if he's comfortable then I'm a happy mom :)

  2. Now, I could see my younger son getting into all of this. He LOVES life, and holidays could be a joyous and, dare I say it, even CALM experience for him with routine. The real trick of our family is to mesh the differing levels of autism so that we can have some sort of celebration. Older son doesn't watch tv, either. Younger son adores. Where is the middle ground on a holiday where most places are closed?

  3. Also, in the category of meldowns during holidays, I must give an honorable mention to parades. Not once have we made it through a parade without also giving a public service exhibition on why the autism in my family should not be exposed to parades...

    LOL! I know I kind of digress, but your post has conjured up GREEEAAAATTT memories! lol!

  4. In as much as a holiday demands we meet some sort of standard or quota, it can easily be a wasted day. Thanksgiving is one of those days for many a family, and for many reasons.

    BUT, the spirit of Thanks Giving, the act of even mentally listing those things we are grateful, for can be done under ANY circumstances! In fact Amy, I would suggest that there is a spirit of thankfulness, and contentment, under girding everything you write.

  5. Find the misplaced comma above and win a prize!

  6. Lol! Found it! You are so articulate and always manage to give me another perspective. Thx for that. It is true. In the world of special needs, our lives could be so much worse. I'm thankful for that.

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