DR RADICA MAHASE
“MY son is a big man. At 25 years, Simon is all grown up and he has his own thoughts, views, preferences, likes, etc. I can’t force him to do anything that he doesn’t want to do. And I don’t ever try to do that. I let him make his decisions and go along with what he decides because even though he has autism he is an adult. So we treat him like an adult. He hates Christmas. He never liked Santa Claus and he hates the bright lights, loud noises and crowds. He hates traffic even more so going to the malls etc, is definitely out of the question.
Initially we used to avoid Christmas totally. We would just pretend that the rush of the holiday season didn’t exist; we stayed home, hid from it all and would reappear and get back into our normal routine when it was over. But then we learnt to adapt the Christmas experience to suit our son’s special needs. We know that sitting in traffic for long periods gets him agitated so we make sure that he does not have to go where there is traffic.
He loves outdoors so instead of going to the mall we go to beaches – not Maracas and the crowded ones; smaller ones where you hardly find people. On Christmas Eve when TT is going crazy and there are crowds and traffic we head to the recreation ground or to a park which is usually empty. We don’t really do much there, just go for a walk or sometimes he will kick a ball. It may not seem like much to outsiders but to us it’s the perfect Christmas Eve for my family. Most importantly, it is the perfect Christmas Eve for my son because he is in a peaceful, quiet environment with no crowds. He is where is suited to his needs.
My son doesn’t really like to socialise much. He is close to a couple of his cousins and that’s it really. So we don’t do the big family gatherings. We politely refuse invitations and if we do decide to go, he always has the option to stay home (which he always chooses) and someone will stay at home with him. We don’t have any big noisy get together at home and if relatives visit, he decides if he wants to stay outside and lime with them or if he wants to stay in his room. We are careful not to invade his space and to force him to socialise with anyone he doesn’t want to. Our policy is it is his home and he should always be comfortable in his home.
He has a very strict diet. He only eats about ten different things. All through his life we tried so many strategies to get him to eat other things; we consulted dietician, food therapist, etc, but nothing worked and finally we understood that that is one thing we might not be able to change so we just let him be. So Christmas or not he eats his regular food. When we cook all the traditional Christmas food it doesn’t make a difference in his world and we don’t force him to have any.
It took my husband and I, as well as our two daughters a long time to understand that we just need to let him live his life on his terms; that we cannot force him to celebrate Christmas in the way that everyone else celebrates. He has gotten us to understand that we don’t need to do what everybody else in TT is doing. We don’t need to rush around spending money in the malls, spending hours in traffic, eating too much, liming and partying.
He has gotten us to understand that we can have a peaceful but very enjoyable Christmas season on our terms. We have adapted Christmas to suit our son’s special needs and in the process we realised that his version of celebrating Christmas is actually a less stressful one. We don’t feel like we are missing out on anything and the most important thing is that our son is happy. I would advise all families with children with special needs to make sure that they celebrate Christmas not in the ‘Trini way’ but in their child’s way.”
Merry Christmas TT, from the Support Autism T&T family! We hope that everyone can enjoy the Christmas season in his/her own special way.
Dr Radica Mahase is founder/director, Support Autism T&T