Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our First Autism Christmas

I don't recall the details of how we made it through Christmas last year. I'm not even sure at whose house we celebrated it with the extended Harris family. Last year we were just starting to figure out that Joseph was different. This year, as I explained before, was very different (has been, I should say, since Christmas is not over yet).

In case you missed it, Joseph is super-freakin' excited about Christmas. He's been singing Jingle Bells and shouting about Christmas trees and telling people Merry Christmas for weeks now.

This morning, I woke up shortly after 8AM. I could hear Joseph in his room, quietly chattering to himself like he does when he's in his room awake and his sister is asleep. I took a shower and woke Kristy and we readied cameras to record the present opening. I opened their door and let Joseph out, woke Maria who was still sleeping and we all went downstairs.

The kids opened their presents, and everything was as it should be. I made breakfast, they both took maybe two bites and abandoned their pancakes. But that's ok. We had some trouble with our dryer, so that delayed our departure for my parents' house. When eventually my jeans were dry, we packed up the kids and gifts for the extended family and headed for Plain City.

At mom and dad's, things started off as usual. Joseph ran around like crazy, Maria played with her cousins. Joseph found the Christmas tree fairly quickly, and it didn't take him long to decide that all the presents were for him. We've been trying to not underestimate his ability to understand what we're saying to him, because he's surprised us so much recently, so we explained that not all the presents were for him, and that he needed to wait for everyone else to arrive. That wasn't received well, you could say.

We tried to redirect him with his new toy, a Leapster. He was happy to hold it, but every time we turned it on, he let out a scream and turned it off again. Kristy tried to lay down with him to get him to take a nap, but he just laid there awake. Eventually, his cousin Celia showed up. She took him out to the mud-room and sat with him. She came back a little later and he was asleep.

When it was time for dinner, we tried to wake him but we were entirely unable to rouse him. When dinner was done, we tried to wake him for presents and he was still quite unconscious. We put him on the floor in the corner of the very loud room filled with 23 people, as everyone opened their gifts. And still he slept. We saved his presents for him to open at home tomorrow. After all the gifts were done, I sat next to him and shook him a little. He didn't respond. I touched his face and he pushed my hand away and then rolled over.

When it was time to go home, then he woke up. He cried. Celia carried him out to the car. I expected that, as usual, he would calm down once I put on some music and we got on the road. But as we pulled out of the driveway, he screamed louder, reaching back towards the back window and crying, "Christmas!" He wiggled out of his car seat, and climbed into the back window. We tried to calm him, telling that we still had his presents. We gave him a wrapper package and a little rubber squeeze toy. That helped calm him enough to get him back in his car seat. He cried for a little while longer, but eventually he put his blanket over his head and calmed down. By the time we got home, he was fine. He opened the presents from grandma and grandpa's, watched TV for a while, the only after-effect was that he stayed awake until at least 12:30AM.

Over the last month or two, I've seen lots of stuff about how to deal with holidays when you have an autistic child. And I didn't read any of it. I thought I didn't need to. I thought it would be as uneventful as last year. Wow, was I wrong! The progress Joseph has made, and the resulting understanding he now has of Christmas and other things going on around him, led to this profound disappointment he felt when he woke up and realized that he was leaving his grandparents' house and he had missed out on most of the celebration there. This made it even more difficult for me than his usual meltdowns over petty, insignificant things.

I know, this sounds like a pretty awful experience. I'm glossing over the positive experiences, for the most part. Though we still have the Smith family Christmas tomorrow, when his maternal grandparents will visit us, I would say that Christmas has in general been a positive experience today. Though not as much as it should have been, and possibly could have been had I bothered to be more prepared and foresee these complications.

In any case, we've learned something new about our son and how we need to be prepared to help him.

Merry Christmas, everyone. :)


  1. Poor little guy. Hope next year is better.

  2. I enjoy your blog, my little guy is almost four, I am a fellow dad with a son on the spectrum

  3. bnkdev: I'm glad you enjoy it.There are plenty of dads out there, but I often feel like autism parent blogging is mostly mommy territory. :)