Sunday, June 16, 2019

Taking The Time To Get To Know Your Neighbors Will Benefit Your Child Who Has #Autism

This is an article that wrote for a site,, that is no longer in existence. I am glad that I kept a draft copy of the article on my blog so that I could share it with you! Please enjoy reading my article titled "Taking The Time To Get To Know Your Neighbors Will Benefit Your Child Who Has #Autism" and #share it with someone in the special needs community!!

     Having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is a never-ending job to make sure that their needs are met physically, emotionally, and educationally. Another area of concern is for his or her safety, while they are at school, with you somewhere out in public, and even at home with the family. If a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder becomes over-stimulated, he or she may try to wander off in search of a calmer environment not realizing that you are unaware of their location.[1] Remember that children with Autism do not process information the same way that we do and they will not give notice before an unforeseen meltdown possibly leads to an unsupervised adventure. So, it would be a good idea to get to know your neighbors in the event that this happens.

     Autism can best be described as a brain-based disorder that impairs the development of a child’s social behavior and communication skills. It now affects an average of 1 in 88 children, a 25% increase of from the previously reported 1 in 110 children in the United States. An estimated 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are affected by autism in the United States, almost 5 times more boys than girls. Autism Spectrum Disorders affect over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions around the world.[2] You might know what Autism is but, how much do you think that your neighbors actually understand about your child? 

     A child with Autism may tend to stand out to people because of his or her behavior or unusual characteristics. Introducing your child to those neighbors, that you consider trustworthy, will help them learn more about your child and become part of your child's support system.[3] Your neighbors will be willing to call you right away if they see your child outside your home, especially if unaccompanied by you or another family member. Be sure to let your neighbors know if someone else is scheduled to care for your child, in case there is an emergency.

     Here are several questions, from which you will want to decide, what information that you will want to share with certain and your most trusted neighbors:

  • Does your child respond to having his or her name spoken? 
  • Would a stranger think your child is deaf?
  • Is your child afraid of vehicles and animals, or is your child attracted to them?
  • Is your child a wanderer or a runner?
  • Is your child attracted to bodies of water such as ponds, creeks, lakes, rivers or swimming pools?
  • If your neighbors see your child without adult supervision, is there a specific way that would work best to help them get your child back to you?
  • Are there certain things that "trigger" or cause your child to have a "meltdown"?
  • Does your child have sensory issues that your neighbors need to know about?

     You can make up a flyer that has your child's picture and pertinent information such as name, age, address, the best phone number to contact you with an up-to-date physical description of your child, what he or she is interested in, if they are verbal or non-verbal and a summarization of their attributes or characteristics. This will help in smoothing any interaction that may occur between your neighbors and your child. By sharing information about your child and his or her need to be protected, you are taking steps to prevent problems and you are helping your neighbors understand your child's unusual behaviors. You are also communicating that you are open to talking about anything which concerns your child and the neighborhood, and you are letting your neighbors know that they should contact you before they call 911. Knowing your neighbors and making them comfortable with your child's differences can lead to better social interactions for your child. This will help your child as he or she matures and earns more freedom to interact with other neighborhood children. When I see my own child is having a good time with his friends in our neighborhood, it makes me proud to be a part of helping him to develop important social skills.

1.  Awaare FAQs
2. Autism Science Foundation  
   What is Autism?
3. Our Mom Spot 
    Autism "How-To" Guide for Parents

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Fall 2012  from L-R: Nathan (9), Lorrie, Matt and Vincent (11)

Lorrie Servati is a mom of four wonderful children and married to her wonderful husband of twelve years. She also has an energetic three year old grandson and a outgoing one year old granddaughter. Lorrie's youngest son, Nathan, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) almost five years ago. This motivated her to become an advocate for autism and eventually all special needs children that she came in contact with while either substitute teaching or volunteering at the elementary school. Lorrie started blogging June 2011 in order to document her son's autism journey and share the resources she found with other families. Nathan's Voice was created to bring understanding, awareness and acceptance of autism to everyone who takes the time to read about their experiences.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Becoming More Than Just Mom and #Autism Advocate: Scheduling Tips

Hi, everyone!

This is the final post that was originally written for a site titled Character Boost, which I recently discovered that this site is no longer in operation. I decided to make this post available for my readers in a post linked to the original post. Please enjoy the original guest post as it was submitted to Character Boost a little over six years ago. Thank you for your patience, understanding, and continued support! ~Lorrie

In the previous post, How To Become Your Autism Child's Advocate While MaintainingYouHousehold, we learned about fundraising tips. While you are busy organizing your fundraiser, it is important to keep your family's needs in mind. It takes a lot of preparation to keep everything running smoothly in a family that has a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are many things you have to consider when planning for your child's and your family's daily schedule. I have found that if I follow this checklist, everyone involved is taken care of:

  • Make sure that you have a separate schedule for everything related to your child's educational, physical, emotional, and sensory needs. If someone else is helping you to take or pick up your child from his or her school, doctors, therapists or other activities, you will want to keep them apprised of this schedule. I keep mine updated on my phone but, I periodically shake things up by alternating between a dry-erase and printed, color-coded monthly calendar that I keep posted on the refrigerator for everyone else to reference!
  • Set aside a regular time to spend with your family. Regardless of the responsibilities you have as an adult, your first priority is as a parent to your child. I have found that if I have arranged a regularly scheduled "family time" for us to play our favorite board games, watch a movie, or enjoy an adventure to one of the local museums, everyone in my family looks forward to it!
  • Your spouse needs you to make time for him, or her. The support that I receive from my husband, and the strength from my Lord, motivate me to do what I can for others. I sometimes get so involved in what I am doing, either for our children's school or the local autism support group, I find time has gotten away from me. Please don't let this happen to you, schedule a "date night" for you and your spouse and mark it on the calendar!
  • Lastly, you need to ask yourself the following..."Got ME time?" I know that you are probably laughing hysterically but, it is crucial to make time for yourself! Everyone needs some individual time for solitude, whether it's just having a designated quiet time once a week or being able to meet a friend for a soda. Making the decision, to take care of yourself, will be well worth every minute!

By following the tips mentioned above, you can advocate on your autism child's behalf while still maintaining a sense of order in your home. Last fall, I started as an apprentice co-leader in my local parent-led support group and then was handed the reins, as the new support group leader, in January 2013. This new advocacy role has helped me to benefit from the social aspect and what I can learn from the other parents while I share what I know with them. I have been so busy lately with April being Autism Awareness Month that I have had to constantly remind myself to not let my various advocacy projects interfere with my responsibilities to my family. 

Please join me in celebrating Autism Awareness Month in April and learning more about Autism Spectrum Disorders. The alarming new statistics released by the U.S. Center for Disease Control state that 1 in every 58 children in the United States are being diagnosed with Autism. Are YOU up to the extraordinary challenge of being the one to "Think Differently" to help someone with Autism accomplish better grades in school, achieve a career in a field that interests him or her, or even volunteer to help in childcare at an Autism support group? It will go a long way in making a difference in your community, the families affected by Autism, and in how each of us perceives individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I know from my own experience that I am better for the time that I have spent as Nathan's Mom and working as a Special Education Substitute Teacher. 

If you are looking for a support group, there is most likely a local Autism Society of America chapter which can provide a number of ways in which individuals and families can obtain support and share their experiences with others in their communities. Their chapters are an obvious place to turn for encouragement, accurate information, and education. Also, there are support groups on various social sites that you can join, or check out anonymously. Search for those in your area or state then widen your perimeter. If you are, or someone you know might be, interested in reading more about our journey on the Autism Spectrum, please take the time to check out Nathan's Voice.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Becoming More Than Just Mom and #Autism Advocate: Fundraising Tips

Hello, again!

This is another post that was originally written for a site titled Character Boost, which I recently discovered that this site is no longer in operation. I decided to make this post available for my readers in a post linked to the original post. I will post the second part of this post as soon as I possibly can. Please enjoy the original guest post as it was submitted to Character Boost a little over six years ago. Thank you for your understanding and continued support! ~Lorrie

Those of you who follow our family autism blog will know that, besides my being Nathan's Mom and Advocate, I am very involved in my son's school and in our local community. I started out by just volunteering in each of my son's classrooms and in the elementary school office. Three years ago, I became a Substitute Teacher in my boys' elementary school where I enjoy working with children. I have had the privilege of being able to "pay it forward" in the special education department at my son's elementary school. Our family has been fortunate enough to have had an awesome team of individuals that have used their knowledge to help our son use his coping skills to navigate his always unpredictable journey on the Autism Spectrum.

My loving husband, our very supportive extended family, and having the faith to rely on my precious Lord, are what has given me the strength to get through the difficult times before and since Nathan's diagnosis five years ago. Within a few weeks of Nathan's diagnosis, I started our Family Autism Team "Nathan's Voice" and we walked in support of our son, Nathan, in the 2008 Oklahoma Walk Now for Autism Speaks held in Oklahoma City. As the team captain, I had organized two large indoor sales to benefit autism, one for each of the next two years, as our big annual team fundraiser for the annual walk. I hadn't realized how taking on this responsibility would affect my family. It is very important to remember these tips when organizing team fundraisers:

  • Pick a fundraiser that is realistic and one that is not too complicated. It is better to start with something small and then decide to add more features, after having it become a huge success and recruiting more volunteers.
  • Find a location for your fundraiser, possibly an indoor venue so that you don't have to worry about the weather and you will most likely have more volunteers. If a local church is willing to allow you to have your fundraiser indoors, you should list them as a sponsor on your advertising.
  • Select a tentative date and the times for your fundraiser. It is good to have another date available, in the event of bad weather or other scheduling issues. Be sure to check with each of your volunteers, suppliers, and sponsors whom you would like present at your fundraiser.
  • Make a detailed schedule so that each of your volunteers will know when they are expected to work during the fundraiser. Remember to send each of them a friendly reminder, thanking him/her for the help each of them will be providing during your fundraiser!
  • If you will be using price tags, and want a certain format used, you may want to create your own custom template in Excel and share it with your volunteers via email. I have found that you can insert a small logo, personalizing them to advertise your organization. 
  • Put something together as a personal "Thank You" to present to each of your volunteers after your fundraiser is complete. Possibly, a small token of your appreciation or along the lines of what your organization represents or provides to the community.

While you are busy organizing your fundraiser, it is important to keep your family's needs in mind. We hope that you have enjoyed this post, and we look forward to following it up with tips on keeping everything in your household running smoothly.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mastering the Essential Skills of Sportsmanship While Having Autism


This post was originally written for a site titled Character Booster, but I recently discovered while checking the links on my site that this site is no longer in operation. I decided to make this post available for my readers in a post linked to the original post. I will do the same for the other two written for the same site as soon as I possibly can. Please enjoy the original guest post as it was submitted to Character Booster a little over six years ago. Thank you for your understanding and continued support! ~Lorrie

I am honored to have been asked to write a guest post for Character Boost. As a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I mostly write about how autism affects our family, the education of our son and how difficult social interaction is for him. Autism can best be described as a brain-based disorder that impairs the development of a child's social behavior and communication. I want to give others an insight into my son's extraordinary journey on the autism spectrum. Over the last few years, my husband and I have given our two boys, Vincent and Nathan, more freedom to play with and get to know the other children in our neighborhood. It has been a good experience, and experiment, in social interaction for our sons, especially for Nathan. Occasionally, there may be an afternoon when Vincent has had to escort Nathan back to the house because he has had a "meltdown". Most of the time, he is able to "self-regulate" and rejoin his friends until it is time to come in for dinner.

When the weather will not permit us to be outside, we will play some of our favorite games such as Sorry!™, Monopoly™, Aggravation™ or something special on the Wii™. If we decide to play a game on the Wii, it will usually depend on what we are in the mood for. Each of us gets to choose a game that we want to share with the rest of the family. The diversity in the skills that each of us have, the variety of sports that each of us chooses and the difference in levels of patience are something that makes our family time one of quality and quite memorable. Individual strengths, and weaknesses, make each one of us unique and special. While Vincent may be good at Frisbee Golf, Matt likes the Tiger Woods™ golf and I enjoy the 100-pin bowling, Nathan is exceptionally good at Table Tennis. Our family has learned, that no matter how much that we struggle with a certain skill set, to remember that we are there to support one another through a difficult level and to cheer each other on to success!

We are extremely proud of how Nathan has learned to master the concept of individual game rules, take turns in playing games and how important general sportsmanship is in everyday life. His slightly older brother, Vincent, has been essential in helping Nathan accomplish these motor and social skills. My husband and I are very blessed to have such wonderful children and to know that each of our boys can do, and will continue to be able to do, anything that they set their minds on.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How You Can be Supportive of Individuals with Autism in Your Community*

*This article originated as a paper that I wrote recently for a college assignment titled "How to be Supportive of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Community" and I wanted to share it with you.
Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of brain-based disorders that impair the development of a child’s social behavior and communication skills. It affects an average of 1 in 59 children, a 15% increase of from the previously reported 1 in 88 children in the United States. The rate is one in 38 among boys (or 2.7 percent) and one in 152 among girls (or 0.7 percent).[1] Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as ASD, are more likely to affect about 4.5 times as many boys as girls. It does not recognize any boundaries when it comes to classifications such as race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.[2] An individual with Autism may tend to stand out to people because of his or her behavior or the unusual characteristics they are displaying. They can become easily agitated and require experienced individuals who know how to interact with them. It is important to remember that they do not see things the same way that we do; their perspective is different than ours.
     A challenge that individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorders encounter is that they do not always respond to others as expected, causing others to misinterpret their silence or how they react to what others want from them. If you come in contact with an individual, child or adult, who displays fidgeting, does not make eye contact and does not seem to understand what you are asking of him or her, they most likely have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It is best if you maintain a calm voice and see if he or she can tell you what their name is. Do not try to touch them or move towards them too quickly. If he or she feels threatened, they may run away from you. Instead, continue to talk with him or her to build a rapport by asking what their favorite thing is. Once you know that the individual is not going run off, contact 9-1-1 to report that you have found someone who needs a first responder who is qualified to work with an individual with ASD.
  Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder do not understand figurative or slang speech. They are very straightforward in how they communicate, verbally and nonverbally. When talking with them, remember that they take everything literally. If he or she starts to become agitated, calmly ask him or her what they had to eat earlier and if they are hungry. It is possible that he or she is hungry and needs to eat so that they can focus on something other than their stomach. Also, depending on the weather and what type of clothing they are wearing, they could be feeling cold or hot. Individuals with Autism usually have something on them to identify who they are such as a bracelet with emergency contact information or a patch on their clothing with a QR code that can be scanned to notify their family as to their whereabouts. A particular QR code can hold pertinent information to that individual and can be updated online by family in the case that he or she goes missing.
  If an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is over-stimulated, he or she may try to wander off in search of a calmer environment not realizing that you are unaware of their location.[3] Many individuals with Autism seek solitude when they wander away from the chaos they are experiencing. Most times, they are not aware of how dangerous leaving the safety of the boundaries set for them can be. Children and adults with the autism spectrum disorder are twice as likely to wander off, succumb to prolonged exposure and probable drowning. A few examples of places they might be drawn to could be a neighbor's pool, a local amusement park, or somewhere they have happy memories of spending time with their family. There is more of a possibility that he or she can become fatally injured, resulting in death, while they are wandering unsupervised. As a community, we can keep a vigilant eye out for anyone that is by themselves, especially a child, and call 9-1-1 for assistance when we have determined it is warranted. 
  Another way that we can support individuals with ASD in the community is to friend their families. Whether it is in our neighborhood, at church, or through our child's school, these families will appreciate the interaction and support. Friendship can resemble a lifeline to those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders. I know this because my youngest son received his diagnosis of ASD eleven years ago. If it had not been for the friendship and support of extended family, friends, and other families at church our journey would have been more difficult than it was for us to endure. We have been so blessed to have the support and to be included in activities like we were. Everyone was so patient with our son and would help us keep an eye on him so that he could enjoy the same activities that his slightly older brother was participating in like Vacation Bible School, Children's Church, and friends’ birthday parties. My son has made such progress because the community was so supportive of my family. He is now a sophomore in high school, taking advanced placement (AP) classes, and plays baseball with his brother for the high school which they attend.
   I am so proud of what he has been able to accomplish, including being able to walk down the halls of the high school without anyone knowing he has ASD. It is because of the obstacles that he has overcome that I have been able to return to college, complete my Associate's degree, and I am working towards finishing what I started thirty years ago, just in a different path. I plan to acquire my Bachelor's degree in Psychology, as well as my Master's in School Psychology, to "pay it forward" to the school district that has been accommodating to my son. As a School Psychologist, I know that I can make a difference in the quality of education that Special Education students will receive and improve the relations between the Teachers in the Special Education Department and the ones in the Regular Education classrooms. The support of the community can make all of the difference in not only the lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but also to the members of their families, as it has mine. Are you willing to friend and support a family that needs to know that they are not alone in their journey? I hope so!
  If you are interested in learning more about our journey, please start by visiting Nathan's Voice, my amateur blog. You can also follow me on Twitter @NathansVoice for updates. If someone that you know has recently received a diagnosis of ASD, please share the attached article with them!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours and to a Happy New Year in 2019

As we prepare for the upcoming holiday festivities, we have to remember that the safety of our #Autism loved ones is a priority.  Individuals with Autism tend to wander off to avoid unwanted stimulus in search of peace and quiet or for something familiar to them through previous experiences.  We should always know where they are for their protection. Read more here on how YOU can help prevent an unpleasant event from happening to your family, or a friend's family. 

Merry Christmas from our family to yours and I wish you the best in 2019! I look forward to hearing from you if you feel like leaving me a comment below. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

REPOST of "Autism and the Holidays" by Bobbi Sheahan

This is a wonderful post by the Author of What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism; A Mom and a Therapist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years. I hope that you enjoy it and share it with someone you know! -Lorrie

You know those Christmas pictures where the little kid (we’ll call her “Bobbi, circa 1968”) looks terrified as she peepees in Santa’s lap?  Just try to keep that image in mind as you contemplate that Mom and Dad’s idea – or the extended family’s idea – of what will be fun for the holidays may be a bit much for a child on the autism spectrum. 

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, the next several weeks come loaded with certain expectations that you may want to revisit in light of the reality of autism. 

We’ll start with some words of wisdom from Dr. DeOrnellas.  Fortunately, we seem to be going through another period in our country in which SIMPLIFY is the byword. More than just a catchphrase, simplifying our lives at this time is crucial to the well-being of our families – especially for our children with autism. This is not the time to be Super Mom or Dad. Keep things simple, only do the things that you and your children really enjoy, and allow yourself the pleasure of doing less.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Years ago, Dr. DeOrnellas introduced me to a wonderful resource: Social Stories from Carol Gray. If you’re not familiar with Social Stories, they are a wonderful resource. The goal is to create a story that tells children what behavior is expected in a new situation or a situation in which their behavior has been less than stellar in the past.  

For example, if you have to take your children to Great-Aunt Harriet’s house, you and your children make up a story about what they are to do. This should be done a week or two in advance and can be read every day until the visit.  Social Stories work, and they can be fun, too!

Social Stories can be as detailed and repetitive as you need. For example, you can show your children pictures of the people who are going to be at the celebration, and rehearse greetings. This serves two goals:  behavior training and helping to reduce your child’s anxiety.  You can look at a copy of the map and highlight your route and discuss where you might stop along the way. You can also plan what familiar CD’s you might listen to in the car. You can rehearse, rehearse, rehearse greetings and conversations. This will also give you a chance to take note of what seems to be daunting to your child.

I’m going to let Dr. DeOrnellas take the wheel for a while, because what she has to say is so good:  It can go something like this…When we go to Aunt Harriet’s house, we use our inside voices and keep our hands in our pockets. We look at all the neat stuff she has, but we do not touch it.  We keep our hands to ourselves and we don’t touch anything unless Aunt Harriet says it’s OK…. You get the drift. Social Stories prepare children for the unexpected and give them the tools they need to stay out of trouble. Social Stories aren’t just for the kids, by the way.  It also helps if you prepare Aunt Harriet and let her know that Lulu does not want to be hugged, but Suzie doesn’t mind.   

It’s a great idea to actually put your expectations and concerns in writing and share them with your extended family, if they’d be receptive. It’s also going to help you to clarify your own expectations. Not sure what to say? I have a great starting point for you.  More than a decade ago, Viki Gayheart wrote a “Dear Family and Friends” letter from the perspective of a child with autism. It has stood the test of time, and can be found at  

Some of the tips include:

-         The holidays may be fun for many people, but people with autism find a break from their routine to be the opposite of fun;

-         Others should not be offended (or surprised) if the person with autism needs to take some breaks from socializing;

-         Many people with autism find it difficult to be touched, so exuberant greetings and hugs may not go over well;

-         Dressy clothes may present sensory challenges; and

-         What appears to be bossiness is actually an attempt to feel safe and in control

Author Gayheart closes the article with a plea for empathy: I will find my place at this celebration that is comfortable for us all as long as you'll try to view the world through my eyes!” I really appreciated this letter, as it forms a great outline for some of the major issues that we face when we take our act on the road for the holidays.

Keep surprises to a minimum. This theme was echoed by my friend Bobbie Padgett, a mom of five, who also happens to be Mrs. Kansas 2012 (how cool is THAT?), who said, “I think one of the secrets to surviving, and if you are lucky, enjoying, the holidays with special needs kids is to stay as structured as possible. I always found that things went more smoothly when our kids knew what to expect. Grandma showing up as a "surprise" maybe isn't a good idea if one of the children is going to be displaced by it or if it's going to require a great deal of change. Being out of school is fun, but sometimes it can be challenge for kids who really need routine.” Bobbie has lots more good stuff to say about lots of things, and you can find her at . (Tell her The Other Bobbi says hi.)

Let mealtime be peacetime, even if Junior has a grilled-cheese sandwich for Thanksgiving dinner. (Or, for that matter, for every meal for the whole visit.) Planning ahead when it comes to food is also a smart move. If your child has a short list of things that he is willing to eat, you’ll want to bring lots of Those Things wherever you go. 
Granny may be very proud of her plum pudding, but Junior may think it’s just One Unfamiliar Thing Too Much. I also need to remember that my child on the spectrum isn’t going to be too keen on waiting for mealtime when she sees Just What She Wants on the buffet table.  Social Stories can only take us so far, and she isn’t going to appreciate the social niceties of waiting until everyone has gathered and the preliminaries (greetings, saying Grace, etc.) are done. Yes, I am training her, but it’s a much slower process than it is with other kids.  That doesn’t make her a bad kid any more than it makes me a bad mom. (I’m sure, Gentle Reader, that you could point out so many other reasons, but I digress…)

This is yet another area in which the holidays aren’t the time to be SuperMom and SuperDad. As Dr. DeOrnellas puts it: Many of our kids on the spectrum are very picky about food. I was talking to a Mom yesterday who said her daughter only eats brown foods so she was trying to add a little color to her diet by putting purple food coloring on a chicken nugget. Holiday foods can be very colorful and full of things we don’t want our kids to eat.

If your child is picky or is on a special diet, please bring food for him to any gathering. These are his comfort foods and forcing him to “just try it” is sure to set a meltdown in motion. This is not the time to try new things. There are plenty of other new things going on. Also, and most importantly, please warn the hostess that your child is not going to eat the carefully prepared meal, the fruit cake, etc. Do not allow someone else to try to force feed your child. That’s actually a great lead-in to the next step, which is:

Try to prepare friends and family. You can tell folks in advance about the challenges that may arise. If your child has a meltdown, it shouldn’t come as a shock to family and friends.  Spelling things out at the start is going to be a big help. That’s not to say that everyone is going to be empathic or understanding, but it’s worth trying. Aunt Ethel may think that you’re a lazy parent because your child is playing with Legos or watching a favorite video instead of socializing, but Aunt Ethel may surprise you with her generosity of spirit if you talk to her in advance about what you plan to do.

Am I the only one who does this? I doubt it. This year, I actually started seeing Christmas decorations in some stores before Halloween. (And, by the way, what is up with THAT?) As the shopping season seems to stretch backwards towards Labor Day, I do my best to avoid getting too wound up. Part of my strategy is to do as much of my shopping as possible online. I don’t like the mall any more than my kid does, and this time of year, it’s a madhouse. 

I also make people laugh by starting to address my cards Ridiculously Early. (That doesn’t mean that I finish them early, or even on time. Or at all.) This also gives me the time and space to involve my kids in the process.
Know When to Say When. Let’s say you’re traveling. If you need to stay in a hotel so that you and your child can have someplace neutral to retreat to, go for it. If you need to take two cars or to arrive for just part of the celebration, do what you reasonably can do and don’t feel bad about it. If it’s time to just have a quiet holiday at home with your immediate family, enjoy the peaceful holiday and connect with everyone by phone.

Dr. DeOrnellas has more to say about this point: If staying in a hotel is not an option and you have traveled 1500 miles to visit Grandma and Grandpa, you are probably staying in a strange (to your child) home with strange people. Work with Grandma and Grandpa to find a space where your child can get away from everyone. For example, set up a video and some toys in a study or unused bedroom. When your child starts to unravel, she can go to her special place to regroup. And don’t be offended if she chooses to stay there for most of the visit. I’m jumping in to put this next part in bold because, to me, it’s the most important sentence in this whole article: The way you will be feeling at the end of the visit (tired, overwhelmed, cross, ready for a nap, and ready to go home) is the way that your child feels the minute she gets on the plane.

Build in more respite than you think you’ll need. If you plan on doing a manageable number of things with a manageable number of people involved, you may miss some activities, but that may be what you need to do. I will bet you a dollar that you won’t be bored. If one spouse can stay at the hotel with a child or two while the other spouse hits the town with the other kids and the relatives, that may work too. 

Consider autism-friendly vacation venues As autism awareness has increased, so have accommodations. Whether an outing is just a side dish to our vacation plans or the main course, it is wonderful to have some options. In the U.K., for example, there are literally dozens of entertainment venues and vacation spots that are autism friendly. I was delighted to find the following listing: There are also sensory-friendly movie theaters, and even Broadway is getting on board. This Fall saw the first performances of an autism-friendly Lion King on the Great White Way! 
Yes, this impacts the whole family; that’s not all bad. In a post about last year’s holidays, blogger Brooke Potthast reflected on the challenges that autism had brought to Christmases past, and that, in retrospect, the “struggle and brokenness of autism” had, over the years, brought about unselfish beauty in her now-grown kids. I was really moved when I read her post, which you can find here:  This is helpful to remember as we worry about whether our other children are being impacted. Every gift has its costs, and every hardship comes with hidden gifts. I have found this to be very true when it comes to living with autism.

Consider a simple, quiet holiday at home:    We’ve talked a lot about going places and interacting with people.  You may also want to consider something truly novel and mind-blowing:  staying at home with Just the Fam.  As I worked on this article, I realized that this would be the most loving and sensible choice for my own family this year. 
Dr. DeOrnellas has personally enjoyed this approach: Everyone comes into the holiday season with their own ideas of how it is to be celebrated. I encourage families to sit down together in mid-November to talk about what is important to them. It is a good time to remind our children, and ourselves, why we are having these celebrations and what they mean to our family. I encourage each family member to name one or two things that they would not want to miss out on. For one, it is making sugar cookies and decorating them with Mom; for another it is driving around looking at Christmas lights or going to Midnight Mass, or singing carols, or buying gifts for families in need. Each family member has something that is special to them. Once you figure out what those things are, you can start to eliminate all the others. In our family, we were able to drop a lot of the commercial, retail aspects of Christmas (our holiday of choice). We don’t go to the mall or fix foods that no one really cares about. Instead of spending time and money on expensive gifts for each other, we now give small tokens of love and spend a fun day together playing games with our extended family. With the money we save, we “adopt” another family.

One reader, Venessa, likened a special-needs situation to life with small kids:  you need to face it realistically, and next year won’t necessarily be like this year. In Venessa’s case, she and her husband decided to spend several holidays at home with just the immediate family when her kids were small. After considering the car trips or airport nightmares (pick your poison), the sleepless nights due to disruption of the kids’ routines, the difficulty of accommodating special dietary needs on the road, it was just easier to have simple holidays at home, and it gave birth to some wonderful traditions for them.  When my children were infants, I was comfortable with saying NO a lot, and people mostly understood. Now that they’re a little older, I feel like I need to explain when I decline an invitation, but the truth is, I don’t.  We have been sad to miss a couple of family weddings in a row because it would have been too much for our kids, but the extended family Really Does Get It.  They were kind to invite us, but they also understood that it would have been a disaster.   

However you and your loved ones spend your holidays, I thank you for joining me this month and I thank you so much, Lorrie Servati and Nathan’s Voice, for letting me be your Featured Guest Blogger for November!  It’s an honor for which I am truly thankful this Thanskgiving.

Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D. are the wonderful authors of What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism; A Mom and a Therapist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years (Future Horizons, 2011). Portions of this article are excerpted from Chapter 3 of the book, which is available at and wherever books are sold.