By guest blogger Julie Hornok
I wanted to provide a magical Christmas for my daughter, Lizzie, but she just wasn’t interested. I tried so hard to involve her in the same traditions I enjoyed every Christmas season, but these things had no significance to her. She had the same response year after year.
She ate the Christmas cookies, but wouldn’t participate in the fun of preparing them.
We shared the story of Santa, but she still considered him a stranger. She refused to sit on his lap and tell him what a good girl she had been or what gifts she dreamed of receiving.
We read the Bible and explained how the birth of Christ had changed our world. I looked into her eyes, but there was no understanding.
On Christmas Eve, we all dressed up in our finest clothes for church. I hoped for a keepsake Christmas picture of my family, but she didn’t look at the camera.
In our living room, we hung our stockings, left cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots for his reindeer. She preferred to play in her room all alone.
When Christmas morning came, my boys went crazy with excitement! They jumped on my bed to wake me, ripped opened the packages before the sun came up, and squealed with delight as they saw their new toys. Sadly, my daughter’s toys were still sitting under the tree untouched and still wrapped. I pulled her close and opened her presents for her, but she wouldn’t play with any of them.
I couldn’t do Christmas that way again. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines another year watching my children, pretending to be joyful, while my heart was breaking inside because I couldn’t share the season with my daughter. I knew there had to be another way…and there was! Here are two things that helped us enjoy the season:
1. We made new and improved traditions that involved Lizzie’s interests.
I decided to take all the things my daughter did enjoy and incorporate them into our “new and improved” Christmas! If she couldn’t enjoy what we were doing, then we would enjoy what she was doing! Sure, I kept the old traditions for my boys, but we added in new ones, too.
Instead of singing Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we sang the theme song from the Dora the Explorer TV show. Her eyes lit up as the whole family joined in and showed excitement for her favorite song!
We decided to take a Christmas zoo trip. As her favorite panther paced back and forth, she squealed with delight as she pretended he was coming to get her! Those squeals sounded familiar, and I was starting to feel the joy of this new kind of Christmas.
We visited a real live manger scene. She petted the animals and felt the straw on the ground. We bought a hands-on manger set for her to bring home, so we could act out the story of Jesus’s birth with her.
2. We taught the joy of opening presents.
Lizzie was only interested in few toys. Predictability and sameness were comforting to her so weeks before Christmas, we began “Operation Opening Presents.” We took her favorite toys, wrapped them up and then opened them right in front of her so she could understand there was something wonderful inside. We found that opening boxes was too confusing for her, so we discarded the boxes and put colorful wrapping paper around her toys. She could now see their shape and get excited because she knew what she was opening before she opened it. On Christmas Day, we didn’t buy her anything new. Instead, we wrapped those same favorite toys, and when she opened her favorite musical octopus, she smiled happily and danced with him for hours!
I realized that real joy in Christmas was not in the actual traditions, but in sharing any type of activities with my family during the season. For our family, some of those activities were quite literally “out of the box.”
Julie Hornok is an author, speaker, event planner and advocate for autism. Her writing has appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and many more. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, was released in October of 2018 and is available at UnitedinAutism.com or Amazon.
When Julie isn’t busy driving her three kids all around town, she loves to bring free pampering events to special needs moms through United in Autism. Join her United in Autism Facebook Community for interviews with inspiring autism parents and experts from around the world. Connect with Julie at UnitedinAutism.com.