Are you hosting an event and there may be a child on the spectrum attending? Do you want to be ‘human’ and make it a good experience for all? Yes, I know you are trimming turkeys, dusting shelves (that haven’t been dusted in 6 months), and cleaning toilets…
Stop for a moment. What is this holiday about? Family. So…stop for a moment. STOP.
Stop cleaning, stop turkey trimming…just stop and think. Think about all of the people attending – what could you do to make their experience awesome. Even more so, what could you do to make sure your child on the spectrum has an AMAZING time? (Yes, I said ‘your’ – if the child is attending ‘your’ gathering…then you are part of their community.)
Preparation #1 – Read Monday’s Post Day #76 – Happy Holidays?
Preparation #2 – Read Tuesday’s Post Day #77 – For Families…
Now, let’s get started. A dozen steps to a spectrum-friendly family gathering….please insert your child’s name wherever you find the name Tucker (and change appropriate pronouns).
Step #1 – Reach out to the family and ask the dang question(s).
- What can I do to make this a better experience for Tucker?
- How can I help you with Tucker?
- I’ve done some reading. I now understand a little more. What changes could we make to make this more comfortable for Tucker?
Step #2 – Protect the safe place. Understand the safe place may very well be Tucker’s saving grace. When Tucker goes to this place leave him alone AND be his protector. Don’t allow others to move his ‘stuff.’ Most of all…if you find him here – please leave him/her alone. He is trying desperately to sort all of the stimuli in his brain. I guarantee you that he is NOT being rude…in fact, he’s trying really hard not to be rude by being alone.
Step #3 – Be patient with our schedule. If Tucker needs to eat/before or after everyone else…simply be patient. Know that we are trying to do our best to keep him calm. If we need to leave…please just let us. I promise WE do not want to…but we NEED to…for the sake of Tucker’s (and our own) sanity.
Step #4 – Be patient with us. If we are trying to get Tucker to nap…it may take A LONG TIME to get his senses calmed down enough to close his beautiful eyes. We are not ignoring you…we are trying to help him relax…and therefore, helping your gathering be successful.
Step #5 – Don’t give him a hard time about what he is (or not) eating. Yes, I know how much time you spent on the squash and mashed potatoes. Asking (or forcing) my son (in particular) to eat anything mushy will immediately cause vomiting, crying, and screaming. No…I’m not joking. Please…just let him be. He will eat what he likes and when he is hungry – don’t worry – I got this, I am his parent after all.
Step #6 – Ask how you could help with a social story. Could you send us pictures of your house (if it’s a new location). When Tucker walks in – could you greet him specifically? “Hello ____. Let me show you around our house. Here is the restroom. Here is the refrigerator – help yourself to any drinks. Let me show you a spot I have JUST FOR YOU! Your mom/dad said you sometimes like to have alone time. Here it is!” He will then recognize you as someone who loves.
Step #7 – Unless Tucker is hurting someone, please don’t try to step in and ‘correct’ his behavior. Come get us – we are ‘professionals’ at dealing with him. Odds are he didn’t know the rules, is feeling overwhelmed, or just doesn’t understand…allow us to teach him.
Step #8 – Please, please, please don’t talk about Tucker like we are not standing there…or like he can’t understand you. He is more sensitive than you will ever realize. He knows he is different…trust me, he knows. The last thing he needs is someone who ‘loves’ him as part of the family pointing out all the ways he doesn’t ‘match.’
Step #9 – Talk with him, not at him. Yes – Tucker will absolutely fill your head with NFL statistics. Team percentages, player names, history, schedule knowledge…everything football. This is his thing. Trust me, I know you may get tired of the topic…but this is his topic. This is the thing that he knows – this is the way he can have conversation. Please, join him in his world. Our children each have something – for my friend April’s son, Jack, it is WW II. Just ask him – he’ll tell you everything you ever (and never) wanted to know. Ask him…it will make him feel a part of your family.
Step #10 – Help us…help him. Let our family be a safe, welcoming place for him. Help him feel like he is a part of this family. He already feels singled out. He feels different at school. He does not have many close friends. Please, please, please don’t let that carry over…he needs all of you – to love all of him.
Step #11 – Be patient with him. He is trying. I guarantee he is doing his very best. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems…let us not criticize, be hostile, ridicule, or shame. Instead, be tolerant, encouraging, offer praise, be fair, show security, grant approval, and most of all…show acceptance and friendship.
Step #12 – Be thankful for him. These very special children have SO much to offer, SO much to teach…we can learn SO much if we are just willing. Be thankful for their presence in your life…I know I am so very, very thankful for everything he has taught me.