Celebrating Christmas Moments as They Come With My Autistic Daughter


My autistic kiddo loves Christmas from her curly head down to her Coca-Cola red painted toes. (I painted her nails with instant-dry polish while she was watching “Frosty.”) The party started for 14-year-old Sadie in late October, when she first spotted the lighted plastic trees at Target. But Christmas Day can often be too much for her. It’s too much glitter and paper and sugar. Too many exclamations. Everyone watches Sadie’s every move, looking for a glimmer of a grin. Most of all, I think there are too many expectations on our parts about the day.

We try to keep things low-key. We set up a quiet area for Sadie at my parents’ house in the mountains, where we spend the holiday. We take walks in the woods. And we let Sadie wander about the house during the morning’s big event. She drops in to peer at the fuss around the tree, unwraps a present, and then goes off to the quiet area to regroup. We dole out her gifts slowly, giving her one daily into the New Year. Then we offer Sadie homemade cinnamon rolls, her favorite, and hope the day goes smoothly.

Though we do these things in an effort to keep Sadie calm, think about it: Who the heck is calm on Christmas? Between wondering how the WORLD’S BEST GRANDPA hoodie you’re giving your dad is going to fly, playing oven roulette with half a dozen 9 X 13 pans, and drinking an ungodly amount of hazelnut-spiced coffee, are we really relaxed? No matter how much I belly-breathe, my attempts at Zen aren’t fooling Sadie and her mood-detection radar.

So this year, I’m letting it go. I’m celebrating the moments as they come. Because I can’t manufacture this:

Sadie sitting under our tree, gazing up at it and inhaling its Fraser fir-ness. I’m in the middle of dusting, but I plop down next to her. I’m rewarded with two gleaming brown eyes and a smile that could melt snow.

I’m never sure which holiday foods Sadie will enjoy. I give her a gingerbread man, and she lights up. Bingo! She asks for another. “You can’t catch me!” she says, reciting the nursery story. I hand her another. There might have been six, in total. (They’re small.)

Sadie and I go for a walk down our street, and she wants to sing carols. One neighbor is setting up lawn reindeer; another is sitting in his front yard on a bench. They give us strange looks. Ah, well. Our offbeat rendition of “Joy to the World” won’t kill ‘em.

The 25th might bring challenges, and that’s OK. This is more than acceptance. This is taking a cue from Sadie, who knows Christmas can’t be confined to one day.

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