PARENTS

Autism Awareness: How One Family Handles The Holidays

12/24/2015 01:48 EST | Updated 12/24/2015 01:59 EST
Kate Wells/PTBO

Christmas is just around the corner - the hustle and bustle of going from store to store; the magic in the air; the joy of spending time with those you love; family gatherings; school Christmas concerts; office Christmas parties; open houses at friends' houses and visits to Santa. It's the best kind of busy!!

But it's not how it used to be. Our son, Aidan, has autism. With that, comes severe sensory issues - lights, sounds; touch and taste; very rigid routines; and extreme, often dangerous meltdowns that can be triggered with little to no warning. Our life can be extremely isolating.

These issues make visiting friends and family next to impossible. We used to attempt a lot of these functions, but it never ends well. Someone either gets hurt, something gets broken, or my husband/or myself has to leave with my son while the other attempts to stay with our younger daughter, Emma, and visit (while hiding a broken heart and tears in our eyes).

Kate Wells/PTBO

So, we keep Christmas as "low key" as possible. Quiet and meaningful. We do our own thing with our kids to create lasting, treasured memories for them, and still manage to spend a little bit of time with extended family - maybe all together, or maybe just two of us. We do our best and we can only do what's best for our family. Thankfully, our family and friends are understanding and so accommodating.

Everyone knows we could be somewhere for only five minutes and it could go well, or end very badly. In 12 years, I can only count on one hand the number of holiday dinners we've been able to sit and enjoy together as a family. If we end up leaving a gathering when things appear to be "OK," it's because we can see signs that Aidan is escalating and need to take him out sooner rather than later.

However long we end up staying, it's just nice to be with people that are on our team. We appreciate their support probably more than they know. On Christmas morning, after opening our gifts, we'll be taking turns driving our son around Peterborough, Ontario, to try and soothe him and get him quiet, while our daughter bounces from toy to toy without worrying about the noise of her talking, laughing and excitement upsetting him.

Kate Wells/PTBO

We want both our kids to have what they need and deserve. For Aidan, it's routine and quiet. For Emma, it's excitement that Santa came and to play with her new toys and to giggle and talk with ease, as nine-year-old old girls should.

So this year, all I want for Christmas is to sit down for dinner as a family. But if that doesn't happen, I know we're so blessed to have the greatest family and friends who understand and support us. So please, if you have someone who struggles with this time of year - for whatever reason - please reach out with a compassionate heart and open mind.

Kate Wells and her family live in Peterborough, Ontario. She is a writer for PTBO Canada where this post first appeared. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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