Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person's story.
My son Carson has autism. Sometimes, that’s all people see when they look at him. But he’s so much more than that! Carson is the most loving person I’ve ever met. He has a heart-melting smile, a sweet, laid-back disposition, and a mind that loves to figure out how everything works.
He’s a cute little 5-year-old with many of the same interests as his peers. He loves “Curious George,” riding the school bus, “Dr. Seuss” books, pushing buttons, playing with his brother, and Christmas time.
But Carson’s autism presents him with some struggles that other kids his age don’t have to deal with. Compulsive behavior, word repetition, speech delay, sensory issues, and poor social interaction are a few of the things Carson struggles with.
And that means that for Carson, some aspects of the holidays are out of reach.
Sharing my son’s struggles
The first clue for many that there’s something different about Carson is when they see a 5-year-old and realize he’s not quite using full sentences yet. But if you say “hi” to Carson and he doesn’t respond or even look at you, he’s not being rude. He just doesn’t understand what the appropriate response to a greeting is.
He gets very overwhelmed with loud noises or bright lights, and sometimes runs away from me in public for reasons I’m not always sure of.
Carson has made significant progress since he was officially diagnosed with autism, but he still deals with these differences every day. Pretty much everyone in Carson’s life thinks he’s an amazing kid with a lot of talent and a lot of love to share. The struggle is really just when we’re among strangers who don’t know Carson, or that he has a diagnosed behavioral disorder.
Strangers can stare, whisper, and sometimes loudly state their displeasure with his behavior. As a mom, it’s hard to have people assume he’s just spoiled or badly parented, when in reality, he’s having a meltdown because the music is too loud or because his brain is stuck on a single word.
What I would love in our lives is just some awareness about autism and the behaviors that are out of my son’s control.
That’s why I’m thankful for the recent shift toward more autism awareness. People are becoming more aware, and therefore more understanding, of the behaviors that autism can cause. There are autism walks, websites, and events that work to spread awareness and acceptance for the disorder. There are even mainstream TV shows — like “Aytpical” — which feature characters on the spectrum!
Bringing the holiday season to autism
One recent trend I’m truly appreciative of are “quiet” holiday shopping events, which create safe environments and understanding for those on the spectrum. These events are becoming more popular and are being hosted by some well-known retail chains, like Toys R Us and Target.
If you’re wondering what a “quiet” holiday shopping event is, it’s basically a time where those on the spectrum can enjoy a little shopping time without some of the usual triggers that can cause them to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable. For example, the lights are dimmed, music and loudspeakers are turned off, and employees are made aware that their customers are on the autism spectrum.
The reduced noise and dimmed lights are especially helpful to kids like Carson, who experience auditory and visual overstimulation. They get to feel more comfortable and have a better chance of enjoying the holiday shopping experience without feeling overloaded. The quiet environment allows them to focus better on what’s happening around them, and not be distracted by the various sounds and bright lights above them.
Letting more kids in on the fun
When I take Carson to the store with me on a normal day, we bring along a pair of headphones to help lessen the distractions and allow him to feel more at ease. But an event that’s catered toward Carson — where he wouldn’t need to use headphones — would be a dream! I would love to be able to take him through the toy aisles and let him show me what he likes, without him experiencing a meltdown due to overstimulation.
Without a quiet shopping event in our area, all of our holiday shopping will be done online. While that’s convenient, there’s just something magical about doing a little in-person shopping with your child. My son’s behavior can be noticeably different, and being able to shop in peace — without judgement for those behaviors — would be an enormous relief. Seeing friendly smiles and having an atmosphere of acceptance — rather than stares or judgements.
Quiet holiday shopping events are a huge step in the right direction toward greater acceptance for those on the spectrum. It’s a disorder that affects so many families —at least 1 in 68 children — and making an effort to include people with all abilities in holiday festivities can make such a huge difference, both individually and on a larger societal level.
This year, I will be contacting my local retail stores to see if they would consider hosting a quiet holiday shopping event. I think there are so many that would be willing to host something like this, if they only knew there was a need and a desire for it.
If a retail store near you is hosting an event like this, I encourage you to see what it’s about, get involved, and push for progress in autism acceptance and awareness. Because the holidays belong to everyone.
Janelle is mom to two little boys, the oldest of whom is on the autism spectrum. Originally from Oregon, she has a degree in sociology and works part time in marketing. Her passion is fashion and she uses her blog to promote modest fashion, body positivity, and autism awareness.