When your child has moderate to severe autism, it can be a struggle to feel like a normal family.
One of the easiest ways to overcome that struggle is to lean in to autism, and let it help create your own special family traditions.
We've been doing that for a few years, and this Father's Day, we hit it out of the park.
A couple of weeks ago, I told Tosh that Father's Day was coming up, and I wanted him to help me decide what we should get his dad for a present.
He thought about it for a few minutes and then proudly announced his decision using Proloquo2Go on his iPad: a tree.
"A tree?" I replied. "You want to give Dad a tree for his present?"
Yes, he confirmed. A tree.
Naturally, I had questions. A tree isn't a very practical gift, especially for an apartment dwelling dad. I asked Tosh if he could show me what kind of tree he had in mind. I turned it into a spelling lesson and used Google search to teach him how to spell tree.
Autism parenting pro tip: search engines are an excellent spelling/reading motivator.
We toggled to the photos results and scrolled. His eyes lit up when he found what he wanted: A Christmas tree!
"Oh," I said. "You want to make a Father's Day tree and put Dad's present underneath?"
He shook his head no.
"Tree present Dad lights decorations," he replied.
Okay, so the tree was the present. I asked him what kind of decorations he wanted to put on it.
"Alphabet animals," he replied.
Of course he did. If you follow me on social media, you know that using the first letter of animal names to form the alphabet is his favorite activity.
So it was decided. We would get a Christmas tree, make alphabet animal decorations, get some lights and give Dad an art installation for Father's Day. For a dad who is artistic himself and loves originality, this sounded like the perfect gift.
However, we quickly ran into a roadblock. It's June. Even though some craft stores have already rolled out their Christmas decor, Christmas trees aren't easy to find this time of year. And certainly not on sale. Tosh's vision of an 8-foot, pre-lit Christmas tree was priced quite a bit higher than our budget allowed.
While I mulled how to solve that dilemma, we proceeded with the decorations. Tosh picked the animals out himself, drew some of them and colored them all. The drawings were laminated, cut out and hole punched, all with Tosh's assistance.
After unsuccessfully shopping for an artificial tree - any artificial tree - that met our standards for less than $100, we settled on silk vines from Michael's. Tosh selected 6-foot philodendron vines from the overwhelming number of choices available.
Thank god Tosh doesn't have the decision making challenges that many people with autism do. (Like, say, me.) If it had been up to me, I'd still be at Michael's, trying to decide.
We took our treasures home, tied the ornaments to the vines (in alphabetical order, natch) and also tied some candy to the vine to sweeten the sentiment.
When we were finished, we tied it to our stair railing to await Dad's arrival Sunday morning.
No, this wasn't the typical Father's Day gift. It wasn't even the typical Father's Day craft.
But it was all Tosh. Everything about the gift, from the concept to the details, was his.
And that made it extra special. His Dad absolutely loved it and will treasure it forever.
If that isn't feeling like a normal family, I don't know what is.