It’s Beginning to Look A Lot like Christmas…

What does Christmas look like for your family?

For many families of those with special needs, it may or may not look like your, “Dreaming of Sugar Plums dancing in your head” vision.

Christmas for our family begins soon after Thanksgiving with a late night visit from the Christmas Fairy.

While I adore my decorations I have collected over the years, planning to set them out is almost like a conspiracy.

My son does not do change in scenery very well.

A few years ago, as we were getting everything ready to decorate, it set off an afternoon of huge meltdowns. Grabbing things before they were tossed in boxes.

I guess it’s hard to explain, unless you live it.

Once my boy saw we were moving and packing things up, for him it meant do it as fast as possible and pack it all. It was dangerous in our home for a few hours.

All of a sudden we had mass chaos.

Our Christmas Spirit was quickly turned into a version of the Grinch.

Not the traditional Grinch, because we all love the holiday season.

We felt defeated.

Something that for so many years brought so much joy, now seemed a bit overrated.

Bringing me to the next topic.

Having a child who is nonverbal means he has never asked for a single gift, not one. In his 19 years, I’ve had to guess what he wanted or “had to have.”

As parents we want our kids to experience the holidays just like everyone else. We vision Christmas morning opening gifts, with smiles and relaxation.

For most of us, that is just not reality, and that’s okay. My husband and I have been working on my son’s Christmas list this year, and we have come up with three items.


A new hoodie, because he has worn ol’ faithful for five years, the Shark Bite game, and for the fun of it, a remote control truck. Not that we think he will drive it, but it will make him laugh to chase the family dog around the back yard.

Is he gonna love the new hoodie, we don’t know. We do know he needs one, and he has to have “gifts” under the tree.

We feel guilty for planning to hijack his lovely worn out hoodie and replacing it. New things mean out with the old. literally.

we must throw away the old one for him to consider wearing the new one.

I remember one Christmas we thought he had to have these fancy Air Jordans. We thought he would look so cool.

We tried them on him, and he had a look of anguish.

We immediately knew this change over wasn’t gonna go as planned.

First time we got ready to go out, he went and grabbed his “old” shoes. He never once wore those fancy tennis shoes WE thought he had to have.

I think I sold them the next year.

For years, we had to search for the exact same pair of shoes, so he wouldn’t know he was having to change.

Buying gifts for him is hard.

He doesn’t care about new fads or popular toys.

He is content with with what he has.

One thing he does love is t-shirts.

He has hundreds! I am not exaggerating.

He collects all the t-shirts. His closet is color coordinated. If we can not find our shirts we know to go look through his collection and hope we might be able to find it.

He knows every shirt he has, and where it is hanging in the closet.

Once or twice a year, while he is gone with his dad, I go through the closet and pull out the ones he has outgrown. Again, the guilt is real.

I feel guilt for taking things he finds so much joy in. T-shirts!

So, yeah, we COULD buy him more shirts and put them under the tree and he would be excited.

Make that four gifts under the tree, because we did find a tennis t shirt he must have.

So, what does Christmas look like for us?

Christmas crafts.

A trip or two to the Reindeer Express, an event for 2nd and 3rd graders, held at our local park turning our Rocky Brook Rocket Train into a winter wonderland of lights.

Over the years we’ve looked around and commented to each other about how the families that attend change. Their kids grow up. Most of the families we saw, were considerably younger than ourselves.

Jake loves the train, year round.

It runs spring through fall on the weekends, and closes for the winter. We must not miss the Reindeer Express, it fills the gap of missing the train for those few months. The train conductors know us.

I kid and say they need to make a season pass, because we spend lots of dollar bills. It’s only a dollar for three laps around the track.

I usually take 10 bucks and tell the conductor we will just get on and ride until our money runs out.

Many afternoons going round and round, choo choo!

Christmas adds the excitement of new “props”. My Jake has become quite the model. He knows all the best photo op spots in town.

This Christmas he has found all the trees and runs up for his photo shoot.

We have learned that being photogenic, takes much practice. Its taught Jake ways to present himself.

Autism sometimes tries to steal the joy of photos for some families.

Smiles are not generic, and are worked for. Pretty much every single day it’s not raining, we are out and about taking pictures.

Pictures bring us joy. Tthey help Jake to connect to his outside world. They help him to be comfortable in his own skin.

Take all the pictures.

So, whatever your Christmas looks like, it’s okay.

Christmas for us is presence, not so much presents.

Being in the moment, not sweating the small stuff, doing the things we can, and doing them well.

This is what Christmas looks like to me..

Merry Christmas!

Written by, Luanne Helms

Luanne Helms lives in Opelika, Alabama with her husband, Jason Helms and her 19 year old son Jake. Luanne is the Area coordinator for the Autism society of Alabama for East Alabama.

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!


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