My Son With Autism Doesn't Have to Fit My Expectations of Christmas

Years ago, for Christmas, the big-ticket items were the Power Ranger action figures. I can recall driving from store to store with my Mom as she scoured the aisles for the red ranger — the most difficult of the rangers to find, of course — the one that inevitably rested prominently at the top of my brother’s wish list that year.

When he opened his gift on Christmas morning, his joyful exuberance was matched by that of my parents, looking on and reveling in their son’s happiness.

While we were taught as children that Christmas is about so much more than gifts, I still think back fondly on those Christmas mornings, the ones filled with  so much excitement and anticipation.

Yet my son, Leo, seems to be indifferent about Christmas. Every year as we go through the motions of each holiday tradition, I feel a twinge of sadness, followed by guilt of feeling that way.

Of all the challenges Leo faces due to his autism, allowing sadness to creep in simply because he doesn’t get excited by the prospect of putting up a Christmas tree, or of Santa and gifts on Christmas morning, is rather silly — I know.

Yet although trivial, these emotions linger each holiday season.

But perspective is a beautiful gift as well, especially this time of the year.

During a recent trip to Hershey Park, my husband, Andy, Leo and I, sat enjoying s’mores as I proudly recalled how well Leo had done at the Park that day.

“You did such a good job, my Leo,” I said, before turning my attention to Andy, “I thought it might be upsetting to him — not being able to ride all of the rides, standing in line, and even not getting as much chocolate as he wanted, but he didn’t complain at all,” I remarked.

“Well, Leo is different,” Andy chimed in, “That’s one of the things that was so amazing to me when we first started dating and I met him. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to buy his affection with a fancy toy, Leo’s happiness is not dependent on ‘things.’ What makes him most happy is being around people who love him and who can show him genuine affection.”

I sat quietly for a moment, mulling over Andy’s words.

And something clicked.

Earlier this week, we spent part of our evening decorating the Christmas tree. Leo helped both Andy and me with a couple of ornaments before becoming disinterested and returning to his “Sesame Street” video, while periodically peering up from the screen to look curiously at Mommy and Daddy placing the remaining ornaments on the tree.

As we finished up, Leo requested “night night,” along with a few tickles, hugs and kisses before he drifted off to dreamland.

There was no sadness, not even a twinge.

That has been replaced with an abundance of gratitude for these special moments with my two boys who continue to teach me so much.

Follow this journey at Life With Leo.

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