We had a busy weekend, the birthdays come thick and fast this time of year in our family. So I thought this was a good time to talk about autism and coping with special occasions. I’ll talk about the weekend we’ve had, and then talk about strategies at the end. They are very much the double edged sword in our house. Both Jack and Lily enjoy celebrating birthdays, Christmas etc.. but the change in routine, the excitement, family gatherings can often become too much for both of them.
But, they both expectations of what happens on birthdays and Christmas, so when we tried to not to as much to help with their sensory input and routine. That upset them. So it’s a very fine line we tread, between keeping them happy and celebrating special occasions, but not over stimulating them.
This weekend was a busy one, there was a barbecue at my brothers house. For my brother and dads birthday’s, with a few family members there. Jack was happy as he had 2 dogs to play with, and Lily had her cousin to play with. It probably helped that due to what’s happening in the world right now, there was only a small number there. But Jack coped really well, his anxiety which would normally be through the roof, was manageable.
The dogs certainly helped, especially as they chased each other and were continuously play fighting, which Jack found hilarious. He was chatty, fairly calm and even watched us playing cricket. He didn’t want to play, but would happily fetch the ball. So he sort of was.
As for Lily, she loves playing with her cousin and she spent the entire time by his side. Playing football, cricket, with the dogs and generally getting up to mischief. Which was lovely to see. He is a couple of years younger than Lily, which puts them at a very similar level developmentally.
Lily is both girly and tomboyish, she’s happy playing either the typically boy or girl games. She seems to get on better with boys than girls though, as most of the close friends she has created have been boys. At school and even at nursery before that.
Saturday was nice, and then it rolled into Sunday which was Mum’s birthday. When it comes to autism and coping with special occasions, 2 days in a row is a very big ask. We also had the issue of the birthday routine. When it’s one of our birthdays, we always go out for a meal. Eating out isn’t always easy with Jack, as he finds overwhelming, the sensory input and his anxiety can trigger meltdowns.
We have learned ways of trying to manage it for him, and last year he was coping really well and really enjoying going out for meals. Of course this year we haven’t been anywhere, and it’s certainly a worry that we might be back to square one. When we eventually do go out for a meal again.
Mum’s birthday was more of a struggle
After Saturday, and Jack had stayed at his overnight respite on Friday, Jack was pretty tired on Sunday. Just like the rest of us, tiredness makes Jack less tolerant. We had prepared him, and Lily that we would t be going out, and that we would order in pizza instead. Which they both seemed happy with. We also planned to go for a walk around, a local nature reserve.
We were later than planned going to the nature reserve. Natalie has fibromyalgia, and Saturday has also taken its toll on her. She needed time to rest and for medication to work before we could go. With all of this by the time we got there, Jack was very anxious and on edge. The nature reserve has several ponds, the first one where the car park is tends to be very busy. Especially on a Sunday.
Once you get past that it thins out and you don’t see too many people. Jack was very argumentative as we walked around the first pond, a sure sign he’s struggling with his anxiety. Once we got past that bit, he calmed down other than getting annoyed with flies.
The fairy garden
Lily was really excited to see the reserves fairy garden. Which is a “designated area”, that’s been turned into a fairy garden, where you can add your own creations to it. It’s pretty cool, and not something you’d expect to see in a place like this. It’s not an official thing, just something someone started around a tree.
I know there have been some issues with vandals in the past, but it’s always been in good shape when we’ve been there. It also means it looks different every time we go. Which is pretty amazing. Now as well as adding something to this garden, we have plans to make our own at home. Which Lily is very excited about.
It turns out the nature reserve is bigger than I realised, despite having been there a number of times. As we found some different paths and several ponds I’d never seen before, where it was even quieter. This was great for Jack, who was much happier. We did end up getting a bit lost, and Jack found the way back for us. Using the map on the PokemonGo app, to find the way back to the pokestop at the car park. Something Jack was extremely proud of!
Pizza to finish the day
We finished the day off by visiting Natalie’s parents, and ordering some pizza in. After a busy weekend, the kids were ready to scoff down some pizza. All 3 of Natalie, Jack and Lily find it difficult to go to Natalie’s parents house. Natalie’s sister who had severe disabilities passed away last year. She lived at home with 24 hour care from carers, meaning the house was always busy (often chaotic) and noisy. Jack never liked going because of those reasons, and often wouldn’t go for visits and stay at home with me.
Now it is a big house that feels empty, and Jack finds that just as difficult. Just as we all do, the quietness serves as a constant reminder of a loved one who is no longer there. His gran also had an accident, knocking a cupboard with her wheelchair, which saw a teapot fall and hit her on her shoulder. Jack was very quiet during the visit, and at times argumentative. When we got home and Jack went to bed, he burst into tears.
This was actually a great thing. You may have heard the MYTH, that autistic people don’t feel empathy or love. The truth is of course they do, but like Jack they can find showing different emotions difficult. Or they show in a different way than what is considered “normal”. Jack letting his emotions out like that is a positive thing.
The strategies for autism and coping with special occasions
When it comes to autism and coping with special occasions, you have to think ahead. You have to strategies, you have to plan everything out and you have to try and establish routines. All of our birthdays in the house follow the same routine, depending on whether it’s a school day or not. Breakfast, presents (or school), chill out time, meal at a family place. Birthdays are not the time to try somewhere new. There is already enough going on in the autistic child’s mind, that it would likely be a recipe for disaster.
Start reminding the child weeks in advance that the occasion is coming up, if it’s someone else’s birthday. Make sure they see all the presents they will be giving before hand. Plan early and tell them what you will be doing on the day. The more prepared they are the better. Now every autistic person is different, some may be able to tolerate any change, some might not be able to cope with any at all. You are best placed to judge that.
We have had lots of very eventful and stressful birthdays with Jack. It would have been easier to just do very little for birthdays, but Jack wanted to celebrate them, he wants to go out and do things. So we put in the hard work to figure out how to make it work, and it was doing. Like i said before though, I just hope the current pandemic doesn’t put us back to square one.
The last and most important point I’d like to make is, don’t put pressure on them, and yourself to make everything “perfect”. It probably isn’t going to be. There will likely be anxiety spikes or meltdowns. You might have to walkaway from something that was planned, because they just can’t cope with it. That is okay, make adjustments and just find a way for everyone to enjoy themselves and be happy. At the end of the day that’s what is important. So, that’s my post about autism and coping with special occasions, I hope there’s some useful bits in there for people. Also that it gives a little insight into what birthdays are like for families like ours. This was a good weekend and Jack and Lily cooed really well on the whole.
Then of course there’s Christmas, but that needs a post all of its own, as that can be really….interesting. As always thank you for reading.