Autism and coping with special occasions

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

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.

Mum’s Birthday

Autism and coping with special occasions

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.


Nature reserve den

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.

Fairy garden

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.

Dad Does Autism

My name is Adam. I live with my partner Natalie, and our 2 children Jack and Lily. Both children are autistic, it is now my mission to show what life around autism is like. Spread the awareness and gain the acceptance that autistic people deserve.

43 thoughts on “Autism and coping with special occasions

  • July 14, 2020 at 9:49 pm
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    I love the fairy garden; I saw a garden quite like it at a place in Tucson, when I visited last year, and I enjoyed walking among the items and offerings people had left there, wondering at the stories there. I also visited a wishing tree and left a written wish protected by plastic in the tree.

    I loved how you talked about the loss of a love one. Sometimes we do not like the noise, but then the extreme silence is just as hard!

    It is awesome that you have included a tip area! It takes time to find what works, so I love that you have shared what works for you. 🙂

    Reply
    • July 14, 2020 at 10:42 pm
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      That sounds really cool 😊 Thank you, it really is trial and error to find what works, so the more people share, the better for everyone.

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    • July 16, 2020 at 11:27 am
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      I love how you’re spreading awareness of autism. I know a few parents of children with severe autism that find life so hard and I’m sure posts like these would help them massively. I also know that it doesn’t get enough recognition in the education system so raising awareness in general is just amazing in itself.

      Sounds like youve had a busy month! Love the sound of the fairy garden, wish there was something similar nearer to me.

      Thanks for sharing.

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      • July 16, 2020 at 11:33 am
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        Thank you, I hope my posts do help people. The recognition that autism is a thing has greatly improved, but the awareness of what it actually means is still really poor, even if the medical
        Profession, services and educational
        System

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  • July 14, 2020 at 10:28 pm
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    Great blog post!

    Dogs have a way of keeping kids entertained. Whenever my younger cousins come to visit, they love watching the dogs playing outside.

    It’s always helps hearing personal stories so you can understand the advice being given. This blog post is very helpful. Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips.

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    • July 14, 2020 at 10:49 pm
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      Dogs are just great, they can keep me entertained, unlike the kids though I have to go do adult stuff rather than just play all the time.

      Thank you, that’s exactly my thoughts. It’s one thing to just list loads of advice, but I think it’s important for there to be some context.

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  • July 15, 2020 at 12:20 pm
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    The pressure of organising birthdays for a child without autism is stressful enough, I can’t begin to imagine how much work it is for Jack and Lily. Your point about prepping them several days in advance is a good one. As is being prepared for things not to be perfect. At the end of the day, as long as you’re all together and there have been no melt downs I guess that’s a success. I hope Lily enjoys recreating the fairy garden at home and we get to see some pics in due course 🙂 Lisa

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    • July 15, 2020 at 12:44 pm
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      My partner has especially struggled with it not being perfect at times, but you learn to accept your circumstances. No major meltdown definitely equals success in my book.

      I’ve been given the task of chopping a bush back and removing the ivy which has taken over the fence and surrounding area in the back garden, before we start. That will be fun 😂

      Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 1:59 pm
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    I didn’t know people believed autistic people didn’t have empathy or couldn’t feel love. That seems an odd thing to believe

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    • July 15, 2020 at 2:59 pm
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      Thankfully that myth is slowly disappearing, but I still hear it now and then. I don’t know where it came from, it really is a strange one.

      Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 3:49 pm
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    I’m so glad that you’re able to talk about the reality of living with Autism. My friend has two boys with autism and has had such a tough time of it over the years when people haven’t understood why she can’t go to places with lots of people and noise.

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    • July 15, 2020 at 4:02 pm
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      Yeah it can be difficult, even more so if family and friends aren’t very understanding. Thankfully the important people too us have been 😊

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    • July 15, 2020 at 4:10 pm
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      Thank you 😊 the Fairy garden is great, it’s one of Lily’s favourite places.

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    • July 16, 2020 at 11:23 am
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      I agree with everyone else here, the fairy garden sounds amazing and there must be secret touch that dogs bring to children, I can imagine how hard it must be for you all, I bet the affects of the world didn’t help, but at least you managed to have a great time out at the Nature Reserve.

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      • July 16, 2020 at 11:30 am
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        Cheers mate, the uncertainty of are things going to open up, will they be safe etc didn’t help either. Probably would have been better if we was still in complete lockdown 😂 it went pretty well in the end though

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  • July 15, 2020 at 4:48 pm
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    The fairy garden looks adorable. And any day with pizza is a great day indeed!

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    • July 15, 2020 at 4:53 pm
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      It really does. I agree, and say with pizza is great 😂

      Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 6:03 pm
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    Your posts are always so heart warming to read and I always think you’re doing such a great job with your children and raising them. I love the idea of the fairy garden so much !

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    • July 15, 2020 at 6:12 pm
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      Thank you 😊 I’m quite looking forward to do it 😊

      Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 9:58 pm
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    Happy birthday to Natalie. I love how you spend the time to make sure everything is as good for your children as possible.

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  • July 15, 2020 at 9:59 pm
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    Sounds like a fun packed weekend, and you all enjoyed yourself. A great job all round!

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    • July 16, 2020 at 7:58 am
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      Thank you, it all went as well as we could have hoped 😃

      Reply
    • July 18, 2020 at 11:28 am
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      Thank you for sharing such a real and honest experience and tips! The advice section was so helpful. While I don’t have any children myself, I do know alot of families you have similar struggles. It really helped to learn more about how to help in these kind of situations. Sounds like you and your family made some lovely memories over the weekend, playing at the bbq and some time in nature.

      Reply
      • July 18, 2020 at 12:05 pm
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        Thank you, I’m glad you found it helpful, helping people in your position learn is just as important 😊

        Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 10:17 pm
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    I love how you share personal stories, and these aren’t topics that are talked about as often as they should be. I always enjoy hearing about how people lead such different lives. The fairy garden and pizza were endearing to read about as well!

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    • July 15, 2020 at 10:46 pm
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      Thank you 😊 I’m glad you enjoyed the post

      Reply
  • July 16, 2020 at 8:02 am
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    Birthdays can be a challenge. You are doing very well to be able to eat out, and have barbecue’s. It’s also a credit to your family for being understanding.

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    • July 16, 2020 at 9:14 am
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      Thank you, yeah we are lucky that we have a family who have been supportive. I know this is not always the case 😕

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  • July 16, 2020 at 8:37 am
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    It’s great that you are able to enjoy birthdays with family, and have been able to go out. It’s often not the case for children on the spectrum. You’ve put in the work for this to happen, and are all seeing the benefit. Great job.

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    • July 16, 2020 at 9:23 am
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      Thank you. It wasn’t easy and you have to develop a thick skin, for the times things go wrong, and be willing to try again.

      Reply
  • July 16, 2020 at 12:29 pm
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    It’s great that you plan well in advance and make adjustments as needed, the hard work has paid off! And the fairy garden looks amazing, great idea 🙂

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

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    • July 16, 2020 at 2:40 pm
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      Thank you, yeah it really is a great idea 😊

      Reply
  • July 16, 2020 at 1:54 pm
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    You have such a beautiful family – I always enjoy reading about your adventures! You are a blessed man with a wonderful family

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    • July 16, 2020 at 2:41 pm
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      Thank you, I really am blessed 😊

      Reply
  • July 16, 2020 at 2:49 pm
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    Good sharing on how autism kids cope with occasions. I learned a lot about autism kids from your blog. Pls keep on sharing.

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  • July 17, 2020 at 8:59 am
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    Thank you for sharing this. I know autistic people have such different needs to each other but this definitely gave me – someone who has zero experience with autism – a much better insight into how a change of routine and big events can affect those with autism. I agree with you in that a big, empty house can definitely have a bit of an effect on people. Going into my Granddads house after he passed away last year to clear out his stuff was so weird.

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    • July 17, 2020 at 8:59 pm
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      Thank you, yeah the house just doesn’t feel right.

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  • July 17, 2020 at 3:43 pm
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    Thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s a great way of raising awareness and educating. As someone who doesn’t know a lot of about Autism I really appreciate coming here and learning about it.

    Reply
  • July 17, 2020 at 8:20 pm
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    What a great post, You have a lovely family. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

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