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Ho Ho Whoa! Celebrating Christmas with John


Jane is mom to John, a 9 year old boy on the autism spectrum. She’s from a large family with lots of family traditions at Christmas-time. She and her husband, Mike, have found ways to accommodate John, while still making the holidays a special time for the entire family. Below is Jane’s account of a typical Christmas for their family.

The Christmas tree itself is challenging enough. We would like a fresh tree, but John is allergic and so we compromise on an artificial tree. Some of the artificial trees are pretty good, and I suppose not having to deal with the falling needles is a bonus. We hang lights, ornaments, and tried stringing popcorn one year, but it was too tempting and was eaten before it even got onto the tree. The precious ornaments from my childhood are stored safely away until I am sure they will not be in jeopardy of breaking. We always loose a couple of the most delicate shiny ball ornaments. I am hoping each year we will lose fewer and fewer.

The open house on Christmas Eve that I used to look forward to preparing for each year now takes place at my brother’s home. It was simply too much to ask John to be patient and not help himself while I prepared the platters of food and set the table. My husband and I each drive separately when we visit my brother’s home. My son eats dinner before we go and I’m sure to pack his Nintindo DS, so he can entertain himself while we are there. After about 45 minutes or so, he has had enough and his Dad takes him home and I stay with his brother and sister a little while longer. By the time we get home, John’s bedtime routine is well underway. We’ve learned that brief interruptions of the schedule can work, but anything more becomes a disaster. Trial and error have taught us so much!

Christmas morning is very different from what I initially envisioned when I became a parent. John is more interested in the wrapping paper and shiny ribbons than in what is actually inside the gifts he receives. For many years, he had a hard time understanding that his brother and sister wanted to open their gifts by themselves — and it wasn’t ok for him to rip open their gifts. Each year, I help him pick out gifts for his siblings and coach him on how to give a gift. Some years this works better than others. John becomes bored quickly with the process of opening gifts. I’ve learned to give him fewer and make sure that the ones he opens are ready to go with batteries, fully-charged, and completely assembled. When his gifts are opened, he likes to line them up and count them — even the number of Starlight mints in his stocking. He then wants to count his siblings’ gifts to make sure no one gets more than anyone else. I spend hours prior to each Christmas morning making sure the counts are even.

Nonetheless, there is something special about our Christmas tradition. Every year, John makes progress, and he lights up in his own special way when I surprise him with a special gift. (The talking presidents game was a big hit last year.) And more importantly, we are all learning what it really means to be a family — to support one another and appreciate each other’s uniqueness.

Additional Resources:

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.