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Autism Coach

Keeping the Holidays Happy


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(Don't let the Grinches Dampen Your Family's Time to Celebrate, Bond, Rest and Renew)

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For a few years I ran a small, monthly Asperger's support group.  Just before Christmas, a mother and her handsome, bright teenage son came to a meeting.  The son had been suspended from the school for three days but had done nothing aggressive.  His punishment for talking back (not profanely) was excessively harsh - 3 days of suspension and getting no credit for work he did right before the end of a marking period.  The family was going away early for the first winter vacation they'd had in years in two days and the school, notified of this, had pulled a fast one.

Many, many schools and the professionals that work in them are wonderful and totally dedicated, and we in the autism community are forever indebted to their dedication, compassion, caring, and talent.  Unfortunately, for some of us, there are some grinches out there in our children's schools who fabricate an incident, are excessively punitive, or just plain mean before a holiday break.  If this should happen to you, know you aren't alone and that this is usually a deliberate tactic that has to do with a teacher's or school's agenda. The reasons for this behavior can be many: to protect the school from being sued, to punish parents perceived as being overly demanding, to set an example for other parents not to challenge the school and to discourage parents from banding together for the common good of their special needs children, to encourage the family to remove the child from a class or from the school, or just to act out in a bullying fashion (which also has the effect of setting an example for the other children in the class to bully the special needs child as well - so the kids do the teacher's dirty work for them).

The reason for the timing is because the perpetrator and other staff will be "unavailable" for a meeting until long after the details of the event are hazy  - minimizing the chances of having to face the consequences of their actions.  The timing also has the effect of wearing down and demoralizing a family during a holiday break when families traditionally recharge themselves on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.

In reflecting on the school's treatment of the young man who came to my meeting, I thought back to how our family has coped with these situations over the years. Here are some coping strategies my family has used over the years that have ultimately paid off for a happier holiday and stronger children.

I tell my neurotypical daughter and my son diagnosed with Asperger's:

1.  Think for yourself.  Use your critical thinking skills and evaluate a situation and gather the information yourself.  Don't let anyone form your opinions for you or think for you.  A teacher, whole school, a whole community, or a whole nation can be on the wrong track.  That doesn't mean you have to jump on board with them.

2.  If individuals, schools, or other institutions do not support you, then they  have no business telling you who you are and what you are capable of.  Take control of your life and destiny by defining who you are from the inside out.

3.  Seek out and spend as much time as possible with people who truly care for you and want the best for you.  See your best self as reflected in the eyes of these people.  (If an adult truly believes in a child, the child will be much more likely to believe in themselves.

4.  Ignore or politely walk away from people who aren't rooting for you to succeed and aren't truly on your side.  They are selling negativity and you don't have to buy it.  This negativity is a reflection upon on the inadequacies of these individuals.

The result of these pep talks over the years is that my kids think for themselves and feel good about themselves and their family.  Both are good kids and haven't gotten into any major trouble at school or home.  My neurotypical daughter is graduating from high school this year and is looking at several colleges.  My son, age 16, diagnosed with Aspergers, has been homeschooled for the past two years, is a talented pianist and composer, and is currently on a path leading toward a career in music. 

Finally, it's worth its weight in gold to put one's worries on the back burner as much as possible over the holidays and focus on the positive!  In our current economic situation, celebrations don't have to be  fancy and expensive to be warm, supportive and spiritually nourishing.  Rest, have fun, and enjoying spending time with the people you love!

Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season,

Sue Bennett, Autism Coach