Happy, Happy, Holla-Daze
Holla – as in we do a lot of “Holla!” and “Hello!” catching up with family and friends; and daze – as the hustle and bustle of the season seems to fly by while we are in a daze.
Truth be told, I have forever been a bonafide Grinch! For whatever reason, the holiday season has always been a time of stress, dread, and wanting the time to pass quickly for me.
This year was my most festive and least dreaded holiday season thus far, which I attribute to my children.
Like the Grinch, my heart at one time was two sizes too small. With the birth of my daughter, my heart grew by one size; and with the birth of my second child, my son, my heart grew by another. That’s my theory anyway.
Holidays with a two and three-year-old are stressful, but add in some travel and that increases the stress level. Then, add in that one of the said children is nonverbal and in the process of learning to communicate and has ASD and SPD, with some pretty big sensory issues that effect basically every aspect of life, it makes for a very unpredictable and fly by the seat of our pants adventure. But truly, who am I kidding? Every day we fly by the seat of our pants on this big adventure: life.
Thanksgiving was spent a state away visiting my husband’s family. Thankfully, the children travel pretty well, so car rides really aren’t too eventful.
We were able to meet many new family members on Thanksgiving. I’m talking little ones we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet since their birth. We also had the opportunity to introduce our children to cousins and second cousins they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet. There were many little ones around.
The meal was delicious, and my husband’s grandma is an amazing cook/baker and prepared the entire meal for all of us.
Ada is at an age where she can play with the older kids on her own and doesn’t require so much supervision. That makes things quite a bit easier on my husband and me. She had a lot of fun playing all day, and ate at the “kids’ table” with the other kids.
Mealtimes are always a challenge, as Augustus has many issues with food and the mechanics of eating so it’s always a chore to figure out what he will eat, how he will eat it, where he will eat it, and the clean up of the giant mess afterwards. My husband and I usually have to eat in shifts. It’s really not an option to seat Gus at the table or even on one of our laps, because he has a reach like you wouldn’t believe and will stick his hands in everything. Augustus’ food preferences change often and vary from day to day. He is receiving feeding therapy at LifeScape to help him be able to deal with a variety of foods and learn to eat them in a more appropriate manner. He struggles with this because of his autism and his sensory issues involving all senses. In therapy, he is working on things such as how to drink out of an open cup and taking one bite at a time and being able to tolerate more than one food at a time on his plate, etc. He has to use a sippy cup unless we are practicing using an open cup because his very first instinct is to touch any and everything. Therefore, his hand instantly goes inside the cup. If he is eating one food and another is accessible on his plate or in front of him, he will remove the food in his mouth and throw it on the floor and try the other food. It’s confusing and hard to explain, but in short, he has big issues with the actual act of eating and tolerating food and their tastes, textures, smells, etc.
Thanksgiving basically went off without any major hitch other than that while playing, Augustus decided to try to pick up his one-year-old second cousin by his hair. He did also try to take the tablecloth off of the table while his dad was holding him at the table after lunch and did spill a cup of soda. He made a less than usual mess with eating. All in all a pretty successful meal and fellowship with family. We were even lucky enough for Gus to get a nap in while we were there!
Christmas CookiesA bunch of family members met at my mom’s house a few days before Christmas to frost and decorate Christmas cookies. Even though I knew there was no way Gus would appropriately participate, I let him try. Of course, he just ate the cookie and wanted to get into things and make a mess. That’s okay. Like I typed, I knew that going in. I do have to admit that I had a bit of a hard time with it because Gus and I were unable to participate and had to spend some time outside. I felt bad for him and bad for Ada because I was unable to help her out with this festive and memorable task. Of course, there was plenty of family there to help, but really I am best at keeping an eye on Gus and predicting what he’s going to do and best at calming him, etc. But, as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of things sting and there is just a lot we are all going to have to accept and get used to.
Our First Sensory Meltdown
Christmas Eve was spent fairly close to home (30 minutes or so away – with all the traveling we do, 30 minutes isn’t much) at my husband’s sister’s home with my sister-in-law, my father-in-law, my future brother-in-law, my nieces, and a few others. We were served New York Strip steaks and lobster tails with all kinds of other delicious foods.
We showed up early so the kids would have time to play with their cousins. It started out pretty well. They have a nice toy room the kids played in. Granted, we are not sure if Gus ingested some small toys and things we didn’t know were there until later when we saw him put some in his mouth. Either way, he hasn’t had any issues since, so he’s fine.
Before supper Gus had what I would call a “sensory meltdown”. To explain, a lot of kids with ASD and SPD are hypersensitive to lights, smells, pressure, etc., but Gus is hyposensitive and wants all kinds of sensory input to include pressure, jumping, etc. These meltdowns can happen at any time and are exacerbated when he is tired and when he is not in his own environment with a lot of new people and new things around. Not to mention, it’s Christmastime so there are lots of lights and decorations and gifts. Unlike a hypersensitive meltdown where a child wants quiet, calm, and familiarity, Gus wants input and lots of it. He absolutely would not sit still and was just getting out of control. I eventually took him into a bedroom and turned the lights down and turned on a familiar television show. I let him jump on the bed, as jumping is one of his favorite things. He jumped, he rolled, he was all over the place. He bit me, he scratched me, I was eventually in tears. Yes, children Gus’ age often bite, but for a very different reason. Gus bites because he likes oral sensory input. That’s why he wears a chewy on his shirt so he has that input when he needs it. When using his chewy, he is often able to focus better on tasks, etc. At this point, the chewy was no good, and he was biting me for sensory input. He was so out of control that I ended up sitting on the bed and seating him between my legs and wrapping my legs around his to give him the pressure he likes and to keep him from being destructive and biting and scratching. I then rocked back and forth to give him some vestibular sensory input as well. Nothing was working, and I felt it was best to take him home, but my husband did not agree and said he’d take over for a while. So, as usual, we had to trade off and on so we could each eat and get Gus fed. This was not Gus’ first sensory meltdown, but his first since his diagnoses and me actually understanding what was going on. It’s so hard when this happens, because he is not in control. He is just doing what he feels his body needs. We thought we had gained some ground with his biting, as he hadn’t bit anyone for a long time. Recently, he bit his speech therapist and my husband and me. I plan to talk with his occupational therapists about a sensory diet for when these meltdowns occur. A sensory diet is tools and activities that help a child get the sensory input they need to again feel regulated and end meltdowns. This will involve a lot of trial and error.
As I sat there restraining him and rocking him back and forth and feeling where he bit me throb on my shoulder, I couldn’t help but look to the future and wonder if things will always be this way. What happens when he’s bigger than I am? He’s already tall and a big boy and it’s no easy task to pick him up, etc. Hopefully, with time, trial and error, and his therapy we will be able to help him learn to self-regulate.
It was still overall a good evening, although a very tiring one, as I had a lot to do once we got home, too. I am glad that the kids got to play with their cousins, and Gus did eventually settle down and calmly played in the play room later.
Although I really wanted to take him home and let him and I be in our calm place, I am glad my husband didn’t let me because it’s important for him to be with his family as much as possible and for us to figure out what triggers meltdowns and how to deal with them. It’s just a part of our life now, and we need to get used to it.
In my unusually festive demeanor this year, I decided I would host Christmas at my house for my family. I invited my parents, my father-in-law, my sister, her fiance, and my niece. I did this in part because I knew it would be a lot easier on Gus and all of us and because I live in the house my father grew up in, and I knew he would really like to celebrate a holiday with his own family in his childhood home.
Not only did I host and invite everyone over, I took on the task of preparing all of the main dishes to include a brined turkey, a pork roast, mashed potatoes, 2 kinds of gravy, and biscuits. My husband made some amazing macaroni so the kids would have something to eat for sure, and he even decided to make an apple pie that was seriously the most delicious apple pie I have ever tasted in all of my life. My sister and mom did help out by bringing appetizers and desserts as well. Man, I ate so much it was just ridiculous. That’s what it’s about, though, fellowship and eating, being merry, and rejoicing and remembering the reason for the season.
Christmas Day was a breeze in comparison to Christmas Eve. The kids were in their own environment and it made things so much easier for Augustus. When he got to a point where he was tired, he simply laid down and went to sleep. Unfortunately, he fell asleep just as we were about to open gifts. I say unfortunately because my family and I wanted to see him open his gifts. It was not unfortunate for Gus. He was in his environment and comfortable and needed sleep; so, he slept rather than having a sensory meltdown not wanting to go to sleep because of all the sensory input around and wanting more.
All in all, Augustus doesn’t care about opening gifts or getting presents. Yes, this is sad in a lot of ways. He’s not feeling the excitement and joy of the season. It’s also okay though, because Gus is almost always happy because he doesn’t worry about things like holidays and gifts. He lives every day seemingly not worrying about the past or the future. When it comes down to it, he is neurologically different than most, but maybe he is in some ways neurologically superior because he doesn’t waste time on things and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He is a lover and he is a worker. It amazes me to think how hard he works every single day just to do the things we all take for granted.
Ada enjoyed the magic and festivities that most kids love during Christmas. We left cookies and milk out for Santa, and even carrots for the reindeer. Santa even left her some cookie crumbs to eat, which she was super excited about. When asked what her favorite gift was she replied “The candy!” I couldn’t ask for a better daughter. She is the perfect sibling for Gus. She has a heart of gold, and I plan to nurture that. She is also a very strong willed little firecracker when she wants to be, which I also plan to nurture. A perfect combination.
The above was our holidays in a nutshell. I wouldn’t change it for the world. This is my messy, happy, sad, confusing, frustrating, enthralling, exhausting, amazing, and blessed life. I have been given this life and these circumstances for a reason, and I’m here to show everyone that it’s all meant to be.
I hope you all had a memorable and enjoyable holiday season.
Be watching for more posts in the New Year!