Nov 25, 2011 0 Share

A Quiet Thanksgiving

Cornucopia with pumpkins.

When you have a child with autism and you come from a large family, holiday get-togethers can be riddled with chaos.

One of the characteristics of autism for many people on the spectrum is hypersensitive hearing. Cody is one who exhibits this trait. Thus a large family gathering filled with children and people of all ages can be overwhelming. The talking and laughing and building fires, cooking, setting tables, coming in and out, the noise of clanking pots and pans, ringing of door bells, the ringing of crystal glasses when they strike against each other and the numerous other sounds that take place during this festive time, may seem warm and endearing to many. But to someone with autism it can sound like a war zone.

The fright and frustration Cody has portrayed in the past has led us to rethink how we celebrate the holidays. While Cody is very loving to each of his extended family members on a one-to-one basis, he does not cope well when we are all together. We have often seen Cody fly into tantrums, engage in self-injurious behaviors—the most common for him is hitting himself in the head—yell at the smaller children to “be quiet”¸ and pace the hallway like a caged tiger. Needless to say, witnessing this each holiday or family gathering has grown more heartbreaking with each occasion.

We have tried many things to alleviate the stress of large gatherings for Cody. We have tried taking him outside, away from all the noise. We have tried keeping him close so he would feel secure. But eventually all the racket would become too much for him and we knew it was time to go home.

Family didn’t always understand. Sometimes they thought we were just being anti-social and their feelings were hurt. I tried explaining but when I only see them once or twice a year, and they are seldom around Cody, it was hard for them to comprehend why we had this seemingly unruly child. Thank God they have come to understand and accept him for who he is.

Over the last couple of years we have had our own holiday celebrations at home but invited only a few family members here at a time. This worked better because Cody knew his room was right there where he could go and get away from any loud talking or laughing. He knew his computer was downstairs in the den where he could go and find an emotional escape by drawing his pictures on his computer. And though he was calmer and more collected in this setting, he would start getting anxious after several hours of people being in his domain, who did not live there. In other words, it was as if he were having all the signs of getting ready to say, “Why don’t these people go home?”

So this year we celebrated our Thanksgiving with just the four of us. Nobody had to get dressed up in any uncomfortable clothes. We didn’t have the extra noise of other people in our house. And Cody could do all of his normal activities as he pleased. He was much more at ease.

I still put on the pretty table cloth and we all used the special dishes we don’t use every day. I lit candles for the table and put the butter in the glass butter dish I use for company. And we even used the cloth napkins with the pretty wooden napkin rings. I made Cornish hens instead of turkey and Cody felt like he had his own little turkey all to himself. I made Cody’s favorite dessert for Thanksgiving, which is pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top.

It was a very peaceful day and for that … Cody, Bill and I are all very thankful!