Thank you for the presents you brought me last year.
This year I would like ….
What Dear Santa letter does not start like that?
Followed by a short (or long) list of all the treasures they hope Santa will bring.
Tyson has never written a letter to Santa.
In fact, for many years Tyson could not communicate one single item he wanted for Christmas.
Although Tyson was quite proficient to use his iPad to request food or drink or go somewhere, asking for specific presents was a little different.
Perhaps part of the issue for Tyson was that he never played with or had even a remote interest in toys.
On several occasions before his birthday and Christmas, we had an ‘unwrapping presents’ program in his ABA therapy.
Learning how to unwrap a present was a challenge as Tyson had some fine motor issues, which was paired with a lack of desire to see what was in the shiny wrapped box.
(For those of you wondering what an ‘unwrapping presents’ program looked like, it simply meant flimsy paper, with very little tape, maybe a tear or two in the paper to help things along and weeks of unwrapping a box every day.)
The problem was no matter how much practice Tyson had, we could not ‘teach’ him to be motivated to find out what was in the box.
I distinctly remember one year we tried exchanging a chocolate chip cookie for an opened present.
I can picture his little toddler body curled up in our blue oversized bean bag chair, and his plump hands slowly tearing off the paper, to reveal the present only for him to immediately drop it for the cookie, not giving the present a second glance.
Everyone that would come into our home would comment on the pile of unopened presents in the corner.
Poor Lincoln on the other hand was dying to know what was inside those boxes.
The new, improved version of me would like to think that if this happened today I would have just let Lincoln open them instead of making him wait until days after the tree came down and I couldn’t stand the sight of this sad pile of gifts in the corner of the room anymore.
I think what was harder than the gifts being left unopen was not knowing what to buy in the first person.
It was the same every Christmas – our family asked what to buy and me, his mom, had no idea what to tell them.
I felt like moms should know what their kids want.
How could I spend 365 days with this little boy and not know a single item that brought him joy?
I also hate to think about all the money we spent trying to spark Tyson’s interest – from trucks, and figurines to play-doh kits and expensive items geared towards autistic/sensory-seeking children.
We have more Melissa and Doug food play sets than I’m sure we have real food some days 🤣
I remember being at Walmart one evening and a little girl was asking her mom for the latest in toy. The mom was telling her it was too close to Christmas and perhaps Santa would bring it. The little girl was very persistent and next to crying and the poor addled mom was about to lose it, all while I was looking at the shelves filled with toys and couldn’t see a single item to buy my little guy.
I was heartbroken. I would have done anything for him to ask for just one toy.
I did not know at the time that I just needed to be patient.
I needed to give this little boy time to gain those communication skills.
For the first time at the age of nine, Tyson asked for items last Christmas.
And he quickly became a pro at asking different people for different items and reminding them at each visit of the specific book/DVD/figurine he had requested.
The only acceptable answer was yes, I will get you that for you for Christmas.
It’s incredible the simple joy of having a nonverbal child being able to express what they want for Christmas. And I feel it brought excitement and joy to our entire family.
I know there are some parents out there that may be experiencing what we went through for many years.
I know it’s hard.
And stressful. I know Christmas is not about presents, but when you have nothing to put under the tree, it’s stressful!!
I felt sad and guilty for feeling sad for many Christmases.
Don’t get me wrong, we had many great moments throughout the Christmas season.
But there is no easy fix to longing for something that at this moment you just don’t have.
Sometimes you just need to sit with your feelings and feel all the feelings.
It’s oddly ironic for the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the time when feelings of grief, sadness, and loneliness are most strongly felt.
What I can tell you is that no matter your family situation, there are always moments of joy to be found.
Surprisingly, this year Tyson is once again not asking for anything for Christmas.
I don’t believe for one minute this ten-year-old has everything his heart desires. What ten-year-old kid does?
Tyson has struggled with his communication over the past four to six months. He doesn’t use his communication iPad as often as he did and when he does communicate, he is spelling he requests using one or two letters, expecting us to know/guess what the word is.
I’m not sure if he is being a little lazy or developing his own shorthand language like teens when they text – idk, brb, lol.
But for some reason, his lack of asking for things for Christmas is sitting okay with me this year. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t had my normal stress-induced Christmas meltdown yet or by knowing his long Christmas list from last year has sparked ideas for what to get him this year.
Either way I am content knowing no matter what, spending Christmas with this crazy little family will bring me joy.
And for those of you reading this that are wondering how to support an autistic family through the holidays this year, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t put any pressure on children to eat the holiday meal or sit at the table if this is not the norm the other 364 days of the year (Christmas may be the time for miracles but not these types of miracles)
- Make a plan for the holidays but know that flexibility may be necessary
- Ask a parent for gift suggestions but be open to nontraditional items such as snacks they like (ie package of cookies or jar of peanut butter) or special interests they have (ie soil and seeds for gardening or utensils and ingredients for baking)
- When in doubt, just be kind
Thank you for the presents you brought me last year. This year I would like for all the children without a voice to have a magical Christmas and to find one special item under the tree that brings them joy.