How a Father of a Teen with Autism Let Go of Traditions to Make New Memories

The post Aaron Likens wrote last week was about how changes in holiday traditions can affect a person with autism. Guest blogger Keith Hammond’s post today talks about that, too — in a different way.

Keith is a manager at the adult day services program at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, and he’s the father of two children on the autism spectrum. He’s written a number of poignant posts for us before, and I’m delighted to have him back with this post about an untraditional way to celebrate the holidays.

by Keith Hammond

A close-up of some hamburger slidersThanksgiving is a joyous family holiday in the United States. From family dinners to football to turkey and pumpkin pie, many Americans enjoy this annual holiday. It may not be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s literally not far from it!

This is not always as true in a family with children who have autism. Thanksgiving is often just a major break in their routine. School is cancelled. Their favorite places are closed. They’re expected to go places they aren’t familiar with, be around people they don’t really know and eat strange foods with different smells and textures. For a child with autism, holiday celebrations can be just one more obstacle to overcome, and that isn’t much fun.

Last November, I drove my son Steven to the hall where my wife’s family was holding Thanksgiving. It is a different environment, with an echo, and not so sensory friendly to my son. My wife and our daughter went there earlier, and over 50 members of my wife’s family were present. I came later with Steven he isn’t good at waiting in line for food, and he prefers a quieter environment, one with much less stimuli.

In previous years, Steven would run upstairs to get away from the noise, the people and the smells. He had also insisted on leaving earlier and earlier each year.

When we arrived at the venue last year, I got out and opened Steven’s car door. Steven reached out, grabbed the door and closed it. I re-opened the car door, and he re-closed it. This went on several times. It all reminded me of an old Warner Bros. cartoon. In the 1949 Daffy Duck short “Holidays for Drumsticks,” Daffy Duck has been trapped in someone’s gas oven to be cooked as the main course for Thanksgiving. Every time the character lights a match to heat the oven, Daffy opens the oven door and blows out the match over and over, just like Steven with that car door.

Thanksgiving wore Steven out so much he fell asleep eating pumpkin pie someone brought us!

Finally, before this could go further, I realized turkey and trimmings were not going to happen for Steven and me. I texted his mom to let her know that we were in the parking lot, we were safe, but we were turning around and heading home.

We were both hungry, so I drove around until we found a White Castle that was open. They did have turkey sliders, but I passed in favor of the more traditional fare one gets at this establishment.

My son and I went home, munched on burgers and fries, watched the Dallas Cowboys, and had a fine afternoon. A new family holiday tradition was born.

Much like the famous “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” I imagined this would be the perfect moment for Peppermint Patty to burst in and scream, “Sliders and onion rings!!!! What kind of a Thanksgiving dinner is this???”

My answer? It was one that my son with autism would eat, and I was thankful for it. We were together, the house was warm, the food was good, and all was calm. Thanksgiving wore Steven out so much he fell asleep eating the pumpkin pie someone had brought us!

Never fret about what you can’t have, but be thankful for what you can have. Cue the music and “Th-th-that’s all folks!”

Read more stories from Keith Hammond about being a dad to two kids with autism:


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