Monday, December 31, 2012

Special Occasions: Who's Expectation is it, Anyway?

I've mentioned before about the difficulty with holidays and special occasions where our son Nolan is concerned.  He wears the label of “classic autism”, if one can even be described as such.  There are times when he is the “stimmy”, “routine-y”, “bouncy”, “no-eye-contact” template of the definition.  Other days, he won’t stop hugging us or stop talking (granted, the “talking” is generally a constant repeat of a three-line section from a SpongeBob episode, which I guess would be back to the routine and stimming).  But, rarely does he get excited in anticipation of anything other than returning home to fire up the iPad.

His sister Madison dons a PDD-NOS diagnosis (which she will relinquish when the bright, shiny, new DSM-V hits newsstands), and on a good day would easily be mistaken for one of her neurotypical peers.  Tell her there’s a birthday coming up (hers or a friend’s), or that Santa is even weeks away, and she glows with anticipation.

When any big day is upon us, Mad is as excited as a Chihuahua is to a doorbell.  She salivates at the thought of a new doll, an art set, a picture drawn in crayon.  To her, opening gifts is an event to be savored.  And no matter what is inside, no matter how trivial it may appear to an outsider, to Madison, it is keys to Cinderella’s castle.

Nolan, on the other hand, remains stoic and resolute.  No, sir --- no silly gifts will loosen his resolve to stay glued to whichever electronic device we forgot to put away the night before.  It isn't in him to get excited about what’s inside the red, green, uninteresting paper.  Oh, he has little problem responding in one way or another to the product inside, but unlike Mad, his reaction is never what a parent expects or wishes for their child.

This Christmas wasn't much different, though it was better (for us) than holidays in the past.  He was a little more excited; slightly more animated when he opened his gifts.  It could have been the electronic nature of them, or he could have genuinely been energized.  Either way, his eyes seemed to shine a little brighter (if that could even be possible), and his smile was more genuine.

I don’t know if it really matters either way.  I mean, to us as parents, we want him to be happy, and excited, and to look forward to his birthday.  But if he doesn't get that way, is that on him, or on us?  What if he’s satisfied with whatever emotion he is feeling?  He doesn't have any idea he is missing out on anything…because, to him, he isn't.

The rest of the year, the word “normal” frustrates us to aggravation or tears, depending on the situation.  Yet, when a special event rolls around, our hearts are broken that our kiddos don’t have a “normal” reaction to the occasion.

Sometimes it isn't our kids who have the difficulty. 


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