When you have a child with autism, one of your greatest challenges is accepting that your family isn’t like others. Social media makes this even more difficult, because you’re presented with this painful reality every time you open your Facebook or Instagram app. This time of year, you see other families enjoying Easter egg hunts, going to church for Sunday services or exploring new places on Spring Break vacations.
Your family can’t do these things. And it hurts.
But what are you really missing? It’s not so much the actual activity you long for, but the memories your family aren’t making, right?
You need your own memories, and a great way to do that is to create family rituals.
When you get down to it, the family activities you’re missing are just rituals. Opening presents on Christmas Eve or summer vacations at the lake aren’t necessarily special because of the presents or the camping. It’s because families are experiencing recurring activities that become part of their family story.
So maybe your family can’t do what everyone else on Facebook is doing. Once you accept that your value as a family doesn’t depend on what other people think or whether or not you fit in, what everyone else is doing just doesn’t matter. What matters is that you creates rituals that build memories and tell your family’s unique story.
We have a weekend ritual that brings me great joy and works with autism, rather than fighting against it in an attempt to be like everyone else.
In the morning, we wake up and hang out in bed for awhile, drinking our morning drinks (coffee for Mom, juice for Tosh) and surfing with our mobile devices. Then we take Epsom salts baths while listening to Bob Marley. Then, we go out for pancakes.
(video coming soon)
The dining out wouldn’t be possible without the calming Epsom salts bath, and Bob Marley adds an additional calming, happy vibe. Rather than labor through the time-consuming steps required to calm Tosh before we can go out, I’ve made it a unique, fun ritual. And in an act of self-care, I indulge in a bath, too. It’s no hour-long Gwyneth Paltrow bath, but it still makes me feel a little luxurious.
This weekend we also participated in an established family ritual: decorating our home for Easter.
Many autism families don’t bother with holiday decorations because their kids don’t know the difference between decorations and toys, and the decorations don’t stay in place and/or are quickly destroyed.
Our home is no different. That’s why I’ve modified this ritual to include a trip to the dollar store to buy disposable decorations. At the top of our list are gel clings or paper decorations I can tape to the windows. In a show of mercy from the autism gods, Tosh has decided most of them should go up high, where he can’t reach.
He spends a lot of time looking out an upstairs window, keeping tabs on the neighbors. He tracks which vehicles have come and gone, and if they have returned to their usual parking space. It’s the first thing he does each morning. So of course we also decorate this spot, too. (UPDATE FOUR HOURS LATER: Most of those stickers are gone and the purple egg has been ripped from the ribbon. But who cares? Total loss: $2)
Now, this ritual isn’t as beautiful as the elaborate Santa’s Villages some of my friends display each year, and forget displaying fragile glass eggs for Easter or some other delicate collection. But my heart still fills with joy when I see our cheery, seasonal decorations. And it’s certainly a happier memory for Tosh, instead of a tense home filled with correction and regret as I try in vain to be like everyone else.
Creating your own rituals not only makes memories, it also gives your family a sense of normalcy. That’s healthy for everyone: parents, autistic children and their neurotypical siblings.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
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