“I want a roll,” my son said through clenched teeth, anxiously staring at all the food laid out on the table.

“Let’s try some turkey too…just a little,” I coaxed, feeling embarrassed that my sister had worked all day long, making a huge Thanksgiving meal for us, and my son was about to meltdown over there not being “anything to eat.”

“No,” he said firmly. “A roll. And then I will have some pie.”

Another member of my family tried to help. “You can’t have pie unless you have something to eat. This is all wonderful food. Eat some of it.”

Not helpful.

I could see the pressure getting to him. The other children were joyfully making tons of noise. The adults were laughing and having fun. It was warm and loud, but it was a nightmare for my son.

He clenched his fists. I got him a roll and tried to coax him to his chair. He kicked the chair and refused to sit down. My family stared at me and the message was clear.

Are you going to let him behave like that?

Happy Thanksgiving.

My son happily opened his Christmas presents. He was excited to see the new chemistry set that was first on his list. He loved the new books. He was smiling and joyful. I took a ton of pictures and started to relax a bit. Maybe he would have a good day and enjoy himself.

Then it was time for us to leave for the airport.

I had been prepping him for days, knowing that the transition might be tough. “We will open our presents, have Christmas tree-shaped pancakes and then we get to go fly to have another Christmas with Auntie and Grammie.” All week long he had nodded his head in agreement.

But when the time came, he snapped. “No,” he yelled and started banging his head with the iPad.

I moved towards him to try and help. He took one of his gifts and smashed it into pieces. My husband yelled. “That was brand new. Some children don’t get anything for Christmas, and you’re breaking your toys before you even play with them?”

My son began wildly flailing, crying, trying to find anything to break or to hurt. He scratched his arms and his face. He scratched my arms and my face. We sobbed.

Merry Christmas.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas I just described were the last ones we celebrated before learning my son has high-functioning autism. To me, they are a blur of stress, sadness, anger and fear. I think they may also be for my sweet boy.

The holidays are a very stressful time for my family. Take my son with his with massive sensory issues and rigid thinking and then add holiday travel, sleeping in unfamiliar places, the noise of a large family all crowded into one space, new foods, no routine, the anxiety of wanting to open presents, the anxiety of all of the presents now being opened and the sheer exhaustion of not sleeping well and not eating well. Put it all together and what you get is a tough season for my son. And, if I’m honest, for me, too.

For a long time, I was bitter. I love traditions. I love Christmas and Baby Jesus. I love cookies with kid decorations and the smell of Christmas trees. I love baking pies for Thanksgiving and eating my sister’s ridiculously good turkey. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And yet for many years in our family, it was one of the worst.

After finally getting his diagnosis and learning more about my son’s needs, we have taken a much different approach to celebrating the holidays. We have found small changes have made a significant difference. Here are three ways we are learning to enjoy the season, while accommodating my son’s needs:

1. Food doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So much of Thanksgiving and Christmas involves food. New foods, savory foods and foods we don’t eat except during this season. Food is one of my favorite parts of the holidays but not so much for my son. I have learned to just let him eat what he wants during celebrations. The reality of dealing with the noise and unfamiliarity is enough of a challenge for him. I have found there is no need to fight a food battle when he’s completely overwhelmed. If he just wants a roll and some pie, I might ask him if he wants me to grab him a slice of cheese to go along with it. No matter what, I encourage him to just eat what he can, and then I can enjoy my own meal.

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I also have chosen two traditions that he can count on each year that revolve around food. One is cookie baking and decorating, and the other is pancakes shaped like Christmas trees on Christmas morning. He loves both and so do I. Anything beyond that is purely optional, and I don’t push.

2. Surprises aren’t always good.

I know this is going to sound like sacrilege to many of you, but my son knows in advance what most of his presents will be for Christmas. We found the anxiety of not knowing what presents he would or would not get defeated the purpose of giving him presents in the first place. One year, he was so anxious about it that he was having daily meltdowns — and there was still a week to go before Christmas morning.

Letting him know the main gifts he will receive in advance helps him look forward to the day instead of stressing over it. I still get him little unknown treats for his stocking, and he has no idea what he will receive from other members of our family, so there is still a little bit of surprise.

3. Less is more.

When I say less, I mean a lot less. Less of everything. Less decorations, less travel, less parties, less presents, less candy, less family, less traditions, less mess. Less really has proven to be more for our family.

We are now super intentional about how we celebrate. For us, it means having only a handful of traditions, like allowing him to pick out a new snow globe each year and spaghetti (one of his only tried and true meals) on Christmas Eve. It means seeing family but for shorter periods of time and with a quiet space always available. Most importantly, the holidays have become more about talking about why we celebrate and the importance of family and less about the celebrations themselves.

Simplifying our holidays has not only helped my son, it has also helped all of us stay grounded in the reason we do any of this in the first place.

Thanksgiving is about gratitude.

I believe Christmas is about Jesus.

Anything beyond that is optional, not just for my son, but for us all.

Follow this journey on Not the Former Things.

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.

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Dear Santa,

My son, Cristian, talks about you nonstop starting in mid-October. He wants to know what your favorite cookies are, how the weather is in the North Pole and just how many toys you can fit on your sleigh. He wonders how you’ll get into our house without a chimney and how you’ll find the children who don’t live in homes. He asks how the reindeer are doing — especially Rudolph — and how they stay warm during your trip. He wants to know the best way to send you his list and how you’ll know whether he’s been naughty or nice.

Cristian has never been scared of you personally, since you always bring a smile to his face. He gets excited when he sees you on TV at the end of the Thanksgiving parade because he knows it’s your time to shine. If he’s being naughty, I might have to tell him you may not make appearance at our house on December 24. But he knows you always pull through for him. 

He loves to sing songs about you in the car but only starting the day after Thanksgiving. He knows that you’ve sent Elfis Presleigh, our Elf on the Shelf, to watch over him and make sure he’s being as good as he can be.

Cristian has turned Christmas Eve into one of his most favorite routines. We come home from church and eat one of his favorite foods — spaghetti. He then searches for the last gift that Elfis left him, which is always a new pair of pajamas. We then work on the letter to you, which is always filled with crumbs from the cookies he eats along the way. We fill up a platter with cookies for you and carrots for your reindeer friends and head to the couch until he falls asleep watching Christmas specials and dreaming of sugarplums and your arrival.

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I just want you to know all of this so you’re not offended if he has a meltdown near you this year when we visit you for a “Breakfast with Santa” event at his school next Saturday. As I’m sure you know, Mr. Claus, Cristian has autism and ADHD. Do you remember last year? It was touch and go there for a while because he wanted it to be just you, him and the photographer in the library. No one really understood, but you and I did — and that’s all that mattered. As your gloved hand grabbed mine and told me everything would be all right, I felt a wave of calmness rush over me. I remember asking him on the way home why he didn’t want anyone in the room, myself included, and he told me that it was his special moment with you.

I’m not sure what you two talked about, but he walked out of that room with the biggest smile on his face holding the bag of goodies you gave him. He wouldn’t tell me what he asked you for, but I’m guessing you pulled through for him. When I saw the picture of you and Cristian later, I could tell the way you held him tight and the smiles on your faces that you definitely pulled through for him.

I do know one thing you told him, and it brought tears to my eyes when he told me about it. You told him to be a good boy, but you further specified what you meant. You told him you know he’s special and to try really hard because you know it can be difficult sometimes for him to sit still, pay attention or hold his emotions in. But then you told him you know he’s a boy with a good heart and full of love and that you were proud of him. Santa, you couldn’t have said it any better.

Thank you, Santa, for always pulling through for Cristian. For clearing out the room so my boy could have his moment with you. For understanding all children deserve to have a special moment with you, regardless of their special needs. For being as magical and wonderful in real life as you are in his dreams. For bringing that smile to his face — a smile that will be forever engrained in my memories as the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. For bringing the pep to his step no matter what time it is as he drags me down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what you’ve brought him.

One day, he’ll stop believing in you, and it will be one of my saddest days as a parent. But until then, I’m going to soak up every moment. Thank you for making all of those moments possible.

Sincerely,

One Grateful Mommy

P.S. Chocolate chip or sugar this year?

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love during the holiday season. 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.


Stacey Haley’s 12-year-old son Will loves coloring, but lately the only marker he’s interested in using is the primrose shade. Will has autism, and Haley says the color is more than just an obsession — it’s Will’s security blanket.

“He goes to sleep thinking about it and he wakes up thinking about it,” Haley told CTV News, adding that her son won’t leave the house or go to school without his primrose markers. “Purple just didn’t cut it,” Haley continued. “Normally, I kind of choose my battles. The marker is an easy one.”

The Haley family, who is from Bowmanville, Ontario, quickly realized that buying hundreds of packs of Crayola markers just for one color was neither economical nor practical. So they turned to the Internet to see if friends and family might be able to spare a few markers for Will.

In a post on her Facebook page, Haley wrote, “He is obsessed over a Crayola marker – the color ‘primrose’ to be exact. He uses it all the time. But they inevitably run out… No primrose means we can’t drive by a Walmart or Staples without him wanting to jump out of the car to buy a pack. No primrose means hell in my household.” Haley offered to trade friends and family some of the extra markers she had for primrose ones, and she said she would feel like she “won Christmas” if she could present her son with a bag full of his favorite hue.

After posting the message, Haley said she was overwhelmed by the response she received. Not only did friends share the message with everyone they knew, but the family started receiving hundreds of primrose markers from people all over Canada and the United States. Then Crayola Canada heard about the Haley’s request, and the company will be sending Will “enough primrose markers to keep him coloring for the foreseeable future,” according to CTV.

Haley said Will doesn’t need any more markers, but she is touched and incredibly thankful “that [the] community is so strong and people are so good and they want to help.”


I would first like to say, “Welcome to the club.” It’s a club with some of the greatest people you’ll probably ever know. Believe me, I know how you feel. You’re probably feeling really overwhelmed right now, which is completely OK. I went home after I found out and curled up in a ball for hours and cried. And that’s OK. You need to take time to let yourself digest this. Just remember: It doesn’t change who you are.

I found out about my autism in an unhelpful way when a friend read it on an attendance list and acted as though it was a bad thing. Since I knew absolutely nothing about autism, I naturally assumed she was right. My other mistake was how I tried to learn about autism. Being a teenager, I would be willing to bet you’re already looking on your phone, laptop or some other device. Put it down. Just do it. The only thing that will accomplish is convincing you this is the worst thing that could exist in the world. And that’s probably what it feels like. I won’t make it sound better than it is and say this isn’t going to be hard. Because it is. There are going to be days when it feels like the whole world is in your way, and every word a person says just confuses you more. So no, this isn’t the easiest path that we could be on.

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I spent about a year after my diagnosis hating everybody in the world and myself. I felt like I was never going to amount to anything. And unfortunately, some people won’t believe we will amount to anything. You will probably be told not to care about those people, which I know will be difficult. So I suggest something else. Don’t pretend they don’t exist. Use them as your motivation. When you read or hear people saying you can’t do anything, lock it away in your brain. When you accomplish something, you can tell them in your mind that you’re better than people think you are. It’s a wonderful feeling.

When I was first diagnosed, the hardest for me was that my parents acted like it didn’t exist. I didn’t (and haven’t) spoken to them about it, and it takes a toll sometimes. I would advise to just talk to your parents. Just talk. And I know talking can be hard and miserable and confusing and frustrating and a thousand other things. If you don’t talk to them, though, you’re going to spend a long time wondering what they think and form incorrect thoughts about them and yourself. Maybe it’ll be a five-minute conversation. Maybe it will take five hours. But you have to try to get them to understand, at least a little bit, of who you are. And if they do that, you guys can help each other.

The last thing you should know about is school. I’m going to sound harsh here, but I think public school (especially middle school) is the worst idea anyone ever had, and I wish it didn’t exist. I don’t know how your experience in school has been going, but since I’m a pessimist I’ll assume you’ve had at least some…troubles. Some teenagers seem to find pleasure by harming others. They feed off of our pain, so they can feel better about themselves. And I know how badly it sucks. Believe me when I say I know. The last thing I ever wanted to do was go to people and tell them about bullying, because when I did, nothing was done. But you have to try. You have to try and change it. Even if you can personally endure it, we all can’t. We can’t all take what some of us go through. So please, try.

I know this is one of the scariest things in the whole world right now. I know you probably don’t even know how you feel. I sure didn’t. But all this diagnosis changes is how people treat the things you have trouble with. And I know it’s probably the last thing you feel right now, but be proud of this. It’s part of who you are. Embrace it.

From,

Someone who has been there

Follow this journey on Life As An Autistic Teenager.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. 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.


When you’re in your final years of school, you might start to fancy people, and this makes you want to spend time with them. You get these urges (which are healthy, by the way), and you might want to get “jiggy with it,” as the youth of today say.

The problem with school is that there are a lot of social pressures, and it seems like all the guys are in a desperate bid to lose their virginity. Being autistic, I found this difficult because I had no concept how to flirt or talk to girls in a suggestive way.

I find that a lot of it is based on “vibes,” and this is something that doesn’t make sense to me at all. If someone of the opposite sex is flirting with me, it goes completely unnoticed, even still at the age of 27. On the rare occasion when I’m successful, it’s because it’s been made obvious, meaning the girl asks me out or leans closer for a cuddle.

In an ideal world for me, sex would be planned into a schedule. Autistic people love a routine with everything planned, and if it doesn’t happen according to plan, uh oh — potential meltdown. This is one area I struggled with, because sex is generally never planned that way. It can just happen. I struggled with this because in my head, I’d think, “Today at around 7:30 p.m., I would to fornicate with my girlfriend.” Of course, seduction is not one of my strong suits, so I’d ask my girlfriend, “Can we have sex… please?”

Me asking outright is not as attractive. When my girlfriend said no, it would upset me because it was a sudden routine change, and it would hurt. But it’s not fair to think a woman would have sex with you on your command. This has caused arguments, thankfully not awful ones, and I look back and wish I wasn’t a sex pest.

Here come the serious part:

Anxiety affects everything I do, including sex. When I’m presented with someone who wants to have sex with me, I can get anxious because I don’t know what to expect. The “unknown” can just be too much.

It took me a while to be able to enjoy sex, but thankfully, I met a partner who was understanding and patient with me. Sadly, we are no longer together, but I’m happy on my own and being able to focus on what’s important in my life. Personally, after everything I’ve been through, sex is not one of the most important aspects in my life.

I find the subject of sex to be a bit taboo within the autism community, and that bothers me. By writing this, I hope other people on the spectrum feel more comfortable about the subject, too.

Follow this journey on Autistic Genius.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share one question people are afraid to ask about your experience with disability and disease. What’s the answer? 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.

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We were out of our normal routine and in a location we’d never visited before. This Chick-fil-A was bustling and the play area was full of kids — most of them bigger than mine. We ordered food, chose a table right up against the glass of the play area so we could watch the kids and settled in. My son, Mareto, seemed to be enjoying the loud play of the other children while the rest of us ate and talked and made sure to check on him every few moments.

About halfway through the meal, I did one of my routine checks and found Mareto in the corner of the play area — knees curled up under his chin, arms wrapped around his legs, rocking back and forth. I knelt down in front of him and asked, “What’s wrong, bud?” A noticed a boy hovering nearby but didn’t pay much attention to him. Mareto lifted his face and I saw the tears. My heart broke for him as he tried to explain that the bigger kids weren’t being nice.

I put the story together and could tell that the other kids weren’t trying to be mean, but they were playing a game Mareto didn’t understand (cops and robbers), and he couldn’t figure out the social cues. So his feelings were hurt and he was trying to self-soothe.

As I listened and nodded, the little boy standing nearby came right up to Mareto, and stood before him to say, “Do you want to play with me? You can be my friend!”

Suddenly I paid I lot more attention to this boy. As I looked at his face, I could tell he was a couple years older than Mareto. I thanked him, told him he was so kind and then asked him his name. “Gage.”

“Mareto, this is Gage! Did you hear what he said?” Mareto shook his head. Gage repeated himself confidently, “Do you want to play with me? You can be my friend!”

Mareto uncurled and stood up. “Yes, OK. We can be friends.” He wiped his face, smiled at Gage and the two ran off to play. For the rest of the time we were there, Gage never left Mareto’s side, and the two had a wonderful time playing. On the way out, I made sure to find Gage’s mom and tell her what a sweet boy she had and that she was clearly doing a wonderful job. She smiled but didn’t seem surprised. Obviously this is typical of Gage.

Later in the car, Mareto brought up how sad he was when the other kids weren’t nice to him. I said I understood, but then I reminded him of Gage. And because of one little boy’s kindness I was able to show Mareto a lesson I’d been trying to tell him for awhile. That even if everyone else is doing something you don’t like, all you need is one friend. One person can make a difference. One person can change your day. I asked him how he felt after Gage asked him to play. “Good. I like Gage.” And now Mareto knows to just find one person to be friends with, one person to care and understand, and it will be OK.

Gage, I want to thank you again. You’ll likely never read this letter, but maybe someone else who needs to hear this message will read it.

Gage, you are a kind person with a good heart. Those are two things that can never be taken away from you. Don’t change. Don’t ever stop sticking up for people smaller than you and reaching out to the person alone in the corner. You can change the world just by being exactly who you are. You might not think you are brave, but you are. I remember childhood, and I know just how much strength it takes to leave the pack and do what no one else is doing. You could have kept playing with the children your age and no one would have noticed. But you chose to do something different, and it brightened our day and taught my kids an important life lesson.

Gage, I could tell you didn’t know there was anything different about my son. You had no idea he has autism, and you weren’t trying to be a hero. You were simply being nice and showing compassion and care to a child who felt left out. And that’s all that matters.

Just keep being you — because who you are is beautiful. And thank you for making our day.

Follow this journey on Laurencasper.com.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible kindness. 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.

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