Thanksgiving looms, and from Bar Harbor to Honolulu families all across America will soon be salivating over turkey, cheering over football, and chasing Alex.
Maybe not the Alex part, at least by that name, unless you happen to me. I haven’t had a Thanksgiving for 10 years, really. We usually spend it with some branch of Jill’s family, and as she gets wrapped up in family gossip Alex usually refuses to sit still. Three Thanksgivings ago, while Jill helped with the turkey and I fried a pair of Hebrew Nationals for Alex’s dinner, he pulled down a small bookcase in the home of Jill’s cousin, and though I was assured by a parade of in-laws that they cared nothing for what had been broken, Alex could have been hurt.
I’m standing there frying hot dogs for my autistic son’s Thanksgiving dinner, and I have to be informed that Alex could’ve been hurt. Autism’s wall between the purest of hearts and best of people.
This year we’re going to grandpa’s new apartment. Alex hasn’t seen much of it yet – lots of cabinet doors – but what he has seen has seemed interesting enough for nowhere near long enough to let his poor father tackle the squash and stuffing. So, yet again, I enter a holiday prepared to have Jill eventually bring me home a Baggie of dark meat and a slice of something sweet and mushed up. This has happened before: Two years ago on Passover I had a bacon cheeseburger with Alex in a coffee shop when he refused to turn down Elmo; last July 4th he had chicken nuggets and I had a BLT and a beer in yet another coffee shop. Perfectly acceptable meals on most days, but not what everyone else from Bar Harbor to Honolulu was eating on those days.
I guess on this last July 4th I began to realize that. “Maybe it’s time we switch off holidays,” Jill admits. “Next year I’ll stay home with Alex and you go to the cookout.”
It’s one solution. Another this month might be preparation, coordinated response, and bribes. Sounds like the war in Iraq, but we talked about today with Alex’s new teachers at his IEP meeting about the coming holiday. Tell him over and over after about 11/18 where he’s going for Thanksgiving, and what will be expected of him there. Bring favorite books, of course (there might well be nowhere for him watch an Elmo DVD). Give him the full tour of the apartment beforehand so he feels less of a need to bolt from the table and experiment with the stress factors of grandpa’s new glass shower door.
Recommended responses to disrupting the party: brushing (our cat likes this, too); pressure on his shoulders and elbows; giving him tasks (probably bringing in the 20-lb. turkey isn’t going to be one of these); trying yoga positions. It does seem to me that by the time you’re mumbling “Ooooommmmm” as the Cowboys kick off, maybe your best bet is to whip out the Chips Ahoy and convince Alex that if he ever wants to see a chocolate chip in any context ever again, he’d better sit his butt down and let me have some pumpkin pie.
“All I wanted this year was to have pie with you,” Jill says, as we prepare to coordinate our bribes, “and it looks like I might not even get that.”
She might, but it might be long after the Lions have gone home.
Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at http://jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, and The Autism Society news blog.Tweet