How #Autism Has Changed The Way We Celebrate

I just had an interesting conversation with some of my favourite blogger friends- @Shasherslife @OKtobeWEIRD and @MomsMusings. They were talking about how Chinese New Year is coming up and how they love to celebrate things and will pretty much use any old excuse to create a celebration and just love to do all sorts of fun and exciting things in their homes.

I made a comment about how I am completely the opposite.

We pretty much avoid excitement in our house if possible.

No, really.

As a general rule excitement is a breeding ground for meltdowns.

I'm not saying we avoid all fun things. We just try to keep the fun things as calm as possible.

In a perfect world our actual house would absorb sound and have soft, pleasing light in all rooms with absolutely NOTHING over-stimulating.


Because our son has Autism.

Let me give you an example of how today would go if I had sprung a random surprise celebration on Aiden after school- even if it was a super cool one.

3:30pm We walk in the door from school and see that the house has been decorated in a fun Chinese New Years theme. Aiden is surprised.

3:31pm Aiden freaks out because he doesn't like the dragon decorations because they look angry/sad and why are they up anyway? and why are we celebrating Chinese new year when we aren't Chinese? and do we have to eat Chinese food because he hates Chinese food!

3:32 pm I reassure Aiden that I won't make him eat food he hates, I will of course provide him with a hot dog and explain we are just doing it all for fun.

3:40 pm I put Kung Fu Panda 2 on because in my sons' minds that is the coolest Asian thing EVER.

Peace reigns while the movie plays.

5:00 pm a few friends arrive for our special supper. As soon as the doorbell rings all three of my children storm the door. We don't often have people over so this unusual occurrence must be greeted with much enthusiasm. The people are afraid but come in anyway. All 3 of my children talk to them at once. Aiden might recognize them, he might not. It doesn't matter how many times he has met them before, facial recognition is extremely tough for Aiden and seeing people in different places means he might not recognize them at all- even if he sees them all the time somewhere else. Luckily Aiden really doesn't care who they are as long as they want to play Lego with him. Aiden begins to become more and more frustrated because the people are not doing what he wants and not doing it RIGHT NOW.

5:02 pm Aiden realizes the people are here to - horror of all horrors - EAT and NOT play Lego with him. This is unacceptable. Aiden makes his views known, loudly and with much venom.

5:04 pm who knows what is happening with everyone else, Aiden and I are in his bedroom while I spend the next half an hour trying to calm him down and explain why this is fun and remind him of socially acceptable behaviour.

5: 35 pm Aiden emerges, exhausted, from his room. He is embarrassed by his outburst but still frustrated that food is somehow more important than Lego. He still hates the decorations. He doesn't like the smell of the Chinese food. And definitely thinks noodles are disgusting. He makes sure everyone KNOWS noodles are disgusting and look like slimy worms. He refuses to eat his hot dog anywhere near the wormy noodles.

5:47 pm Aiden is done 3 bites of his hotdog and 4 glasses of juice. Now it is time to play Lego right? Why is everyone still eating? What could there possibly be left to talk about except MAYBE a video game? The chairs are uncomfortable, the light is all wrong, there is a draft from somewhere and no, talking about school and sports does not sound like fun.

5:48 pm Aiden leaves the table and throws himself in abject misery face first over the arm of the couch. The world clearly hates him and he is not too fond of them either. Chinese new year sucks.

6:00 pm The people move to the living room. Aiden gets excited thinking that now, finally, someone will play Lego with him. But no. The adults want to visit. The kids don't want to play with the kid who freaked out for the last hour.

6:05 pm Daddy and I manage to convince Aiden that Lego is not the only option he has. Perhaps he would like to try one of his other toys? Aiden changes tactics and brings his iPod out. This gets another kids attention. Finally. Success.

6:15 pm the kid asks to play with Aiden's iPod. This does not go over well. We offer the kid a different electronic device since we have a kazillion of them. Aiden is frustrated because he no longer has the child's full attention.

6:16 pm Aiden notices that our two other children are happily playing with the other kids. This reminds him that he is different. This causes him to have another meltdown- this time about how everyone hates him and how he should just kill himself. The people are shocked that a 9 year old has said such a thing.

6:17 pm while the people in the living room discuss the outburst of our child Aiden and I spend the next half hour in his room calming him down and explaining why he is awesome, why we love him just the way he is, why God doesn't make junk, and why having people over is fun. Again.

7:00 pm The people leave. Aiden sobs at the door and clings to them. Don't go!! Actual sobbing tears. The people are uncomfortable and wonder why the 9 year old is sobbing and clinging to them. They leave anyway.

7:05 pm we work at restoring normalcy and calming down. The remaining time before bedtime is spent recovering from all the "fun".

You may think I am exaggerating... but I assure you I am not.

The details may change but the overall idea is the same. Change and transition and new things are just plain hard for my son. Sometimes things go pretty well. Occasionally things go so incredibly badly that the event lasts all of 8 minutes before the whole thing is completely derailed.

The reality is that most of the time the key to having a good day in our household is to keep things calm.

And you know what? There is nothing wrong with calm :). I think excitement is HIGHLY overrated!


Thank-you for sharing Tara. I've never really met someone with Autism, I think that there is one little boy in my daughter's swim class and people don't understand and don't have patience for aufistic kids. I do my best to not treat them differently. :) You know what, sometimes excitement IS overrated!
Pam L said…
I too have a high functioning autistic child and I try to project how events will go but I find she can surprise me on how things play out. We try to carry on and expose her to new things so that her brother isn't missing out.
Another way could be to talk about the celebration before hand to see how they react. Involving my dd in the picking of decorations and the decorating process can really make a negative ereaction a happy positive outcome. Explaining that Friends or family will be coming over for the celebration and giving a predicted time where they could say create Lego dragons or temples would all help in changing the evening from a disaster to a fun experience for the whole family.

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