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The myth of the Normal Rockwell holiday

December is the season for nostalgia and idealism. We love to watch old movies, flip through photo albums, and scroll through Pinterest for images of the ideal holiday. We may raise our hopes very high to create that perfect day (or week or month), filled with memories and cookies and family fun.

Then reality hits. For families who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, that reality can hit particularly hard and cause many different conflicting feelings about the holiday and even our family.

Here are a few things to think about as you plan your holidays.

  • Cut back on activities. It is okay to say no to social engagements that are not conducive to your child.
  • If you do want to attend activities that might be challenging for your child, think about the activity and the environment. If your child will struggle, it is better to get a babysitter or allow your child to stay home. Do not feel guilty about this!
  • If you decide to take your child, make a plan and share it with your child. Decide how long you will stay, explain behavioral expectations, and take a visual to help the event go better.
  • Rethink your traditional expectations. Let go of the ones that don’t work for your family. Do not feel guilty about this either!
  • Pick and choose the traditions that you feel are most important.
  • Take time for yourself to refresh and to reduce stress. A walk in the park alone can be a great way to clear your head.
  • If you are thinking of visiting Santa, consider going to a “Sensitive Santa” or other location that is less stimulating to visit Santa. Use the Internet to help find Santa stops in locations that might be less stressful and more accepting of your child’s needs than the mall. No matter what people say, screaming Santa pictures are not that cute.
  • Try to feel okay about your new normal. If all of the family celebration photos on Facebook make you feel sad or upset, consider taking a social media break for December. Don’t compare your “behind the scenes” with everyone else’s highlight reel.
  • It is okay to feel some grief about not having that Norman Rockwell holiday, but remember, Norman Rockwell painted a moment in time. Who knows what was going on right before or right after those moments?
  • Remember that your holiday only needs to be perfect for your family, and you get to decide how to define that.