Erin Clemens - Autism and the Holidays
Talking about holidays and living on the autism spectrum with author and advocate Erin Clemens.
Yesterday was decoration tear down day, which is always a bit of a downer, so my husband and I cranked some classic rock music as we painstakingly made Christmas disappear. Hearing the screaming wail of Axl Rose helped me swiftly pack Bing Crosby up until next December.
One of the last decorations I took off the tree was our son Ryan’s first Christmas ornament. And it brought about a wave of nostalgia — but also, more importantly, clarity.
For years, I would look at old photos of Ryan and see them in one of two ways: “Before Autism” or “After Autism.” Yet today, for what felt like the first time, I looked at this photo and only saw my beautiful baby boy. A boy for whom, in 2001 (years “Before Autism”), I dreamed a bright future filled with happiness, love, good health and acceptance for whomever he would one day become.
None of those dreams changed “After Autism.”
Sure, upon hearing “the A word” for the first time, I believed the dreams I once held for my son would now be different, and in some ways they may be — but the dreams that changed in my head were never his dreams; they were mine. In all the ways that matter — really, truly matter — my dreams and his dreams didn’t change “After Autism.”
So as I packed up Ryan’s first Christmas ornament from 2001 safely in the ornament box with the lyrics of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” playing loudly in the kitchen, I smiled happily knowing my dreams for Ryan in 2017 have as little to do with autism as they did in 2001. I still dream for him to be happy, healthy, loved and accepted.
Yes, there may be challenges I didn’t anticipate that first Christmas all those years ago, but I knew then, just as I know now, that I would do anything and everything to help make Ryan’s dreams come true. Autism didn’t change that.
I would like to think this moment of clarity will remain with me throughout the new year and into the new years yet to come. I hope going forward I will no longer look at photos of Ryan and see “Before Autism” or “After Autism,” that I will only see the baby, the toddler, the adolescent, the teenager and, one day, the man who was — and is — happily living his dream of being loved and accepted. And recognizing that regardless of age or time, the beautiful smile shining brightly from each and every photo was directed at me, the person he trusts most to always see him, not autism.
Images via Contributor.
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