Blah blah blah Thanksgiving. I know it’s the best holiday of the year, not religious, for all Americans, etc. I love the traditional Thanksgiving meal and all it represents in terms of giving thanks and appreciating all you have. For many special needs kids the holidays can cause a lot of anxiety. What is expected of me? I feel like that question is on Bryan’s face very often. Crafting an appropriate response is the essence of communication. Am I supposed to respond? What exactly are you looking for? Bryan always knows a response is required but the kind of response required can be difficult for him. At holiday gatherings people are often uncomfortable; there are heightened expectations about behavior from everyone. For me, I try to work on myself regarding Bryan and not worry too much if he is anxious, he is a young man now and for the most part he can hack a few hours at a family event. He tells me every day where we are going for Thanksgiving. We are going to my cousin’s house and he is sooo excited. I asked him what do you like about Thanksgiving. His response, classic Bryan, was “turkey and soda”. Love it! Truthfully Bryan will always be focused on food, but more importantly he will be focused on family. He truly loves when we are all in one place, and he feels the love and knows genuine, heartfelt warmth when it’s impressed upon him. Often kids with autism, particularly Bryan, use associations to communicate rather than actual conversation. What’s the difference? Well if Bryan sees someone he knows he will tell them the last thing that they did together. For example, if he sees some of my cousins he will say, “you came to my Bar Mitzvah”. That is Bryan speak, for hi, how are you? I love you, I miss you,I acknowledge you. You see the conversation starters are not easy for him. However, what is more delightful than seeing someone who greets you with something relating to the last time you saw each other? The great thing about my family is that they dig it. They love his little quips and his trips down memory lane. They embrace his uniqueness and we are forever grateful and humbled by it. To know, as a parent of a special needs child, that your family holidays are a safe place for your kid, well that’s truly something to be thankful for.
Years ago we were at one of my cousin’s house for Break the Fast on Yom Kippur. Bryan was probably around 8 or 9. They always had a ton of people over and it was good for us because there were so many kids around it felt warm and secure for us and the boys. Bryan decided to go swimming in his clothes. Some of our family was very distressed by this and gave us some crazy looks. What I always remember about that was my cousin’s teenage kids. They laughed and joked about it. They did not do this in a teasing way, but more of an appreciation for his cleverness to get in the pool and sort of avoid holiday stuffiness. I was a bit stressed at the time but looking back on it all I can do is think, wow, he would never do that now, he’s grown a lot. And for the kids that were there, well, they just love him for being Bryan. At our celebration next week a lot of those same kids are coming in from college or getting ready for college. They have matured, moving on to the next natural stage of life. While I admit I absolutely love hearing about their new adventures, new friends, and life experiences, it always stings just a little bit. Somehow that, what will Bryan get to experience is always stuffed down there somewhere and I have to stifle the urge to let it surface. I remind myself, that his path is his path and we just have to take it slow. Perhaps a few holiday cocktails and a few good laughs will ease the way. Bryan, however, will not be worried about anything except dessert and what time we are going home. Happy Thanksgiving!