Why We Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ With My Autistic Son Every Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and with it comes the yearly conundrum faced by this autism family and our extended family.

Whom should we sing “Happy Birthday” to on Thanksgiving Day? The turkey? The pilgrims and Native Americans? We’ve regaled them all over the years.

I think a little explanation is in order.

boy in blue shirt holding lollipop

My autistic son, now 13, loves to sing “Happy Birthday” at every family gathering. In his worldview, it’s not a party until we sing “Happy Birthday.” And our big extended family always sings along.

Sometimes the holiday/Happy Birthday mash-up is effortless. On Easter, we sing “Happy Birthday” to the Easter Bunny. On the Fourth of July, we sing to Uncle Sam or America. In a few weeks, our Christmas carol will be “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

But Thanksgiving is always a bit of a stumper. (Let’s face it, “Happy Birthday Turkey” is just wrong on too many levels.)

Really, though, the conundrum is not a big deal. The way our family welcomes our son’s contribution to family gatherings is.

They all appreciate the dazzling joy on his face when we sing his favorite song. They understand he needs to spend much of the gathering outside with his dog or in a quiet room with my husband or me until his big moment. It’s really no big deal to them.

It is a big deal to my husband and me because they’ve always embraced him for who he is, just as they’ve embraced every family member, whatever quirks or other qualities they bring to the table. We are thankful for their acceptance and unconditional love because we know not everyone experiences it at their holiday table.

So, when we gather for Thanksgiving, I’ll bring the potatoes. Nan will make her oyster stuffing. Another family member will bring salads and salmon Nanbanzuke-style (nanbanzuke is a Japanese fish dish).

Our son will bring the joy of song. And I will have much to be thankful for.

boy laying next to his dog

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or illness during the holiday season, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

TOPICS
,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Brock with his arm around his sister

To the Loved Ones Who Don’t Get Why We Leave Holiday Dinners Early

Right around this time of the year, I start to get a warm feeling coursing through my blood. I love everything about the holidays — the sights, the smells and most definitely the foods. Most importantly I love watching the utter joy light up my son Brock’s face. There’s not much that can really put that look [...]

Every Neurotypical Person Needs to Hear This Autistic Artist's Poem

A Montreal-based artist who specializes in photorealistic pencil drawings has lately been using short videos as a form of self-expression. The artist, who goes by “Remrov,” has autism, and on Nov. 17 she uploaded a video of herself reading a poem that explains her experience on the spectrum — and what the rest of the world can do to help people with autism. The piece, called “Neuro-untypical,” starts [...]

When My Son With Autism Asked Why a Boy Scouts Troop Excluded Him

We choose my son. All of him. Where he’s been. Where he’s going.  It never occurred to me that someone not choosing my son would hurt longer and more deeply than any rejection I have experienced as an individual. The Boy Scouts motto is, “Be Prepared.” And I wasn’t. Not prepared to receive a voicemail telling [...]

How an Autism Family Prepares for Thanksgiving

Oh, the hours of prep work that goes into preparing for a Thanksgiving family feast… Peeling, cutting, basting, dicing, slicing, baking, mashing, boiling and stuffing. Not to mention the three-page grocery list, aisle change maneuvering. shopping cart dodging and baking aisle crowd surfing just to get the ingredients you need before even opening your recipe [...]