This is a blog post by J-Jaye Hurley. J-Jaye is the Autism Response Team Coordinator for the SE Region and mom to Jackson, wife of Ryan and caretaker of the dachshund doggie duo, Miss Bojangles and Darby!
Experiencing the holidays with a child on the spectrum often presents challenges, and there are many holiday traditions that most “typical” families probably take for granted. Getting your child’s photo taken with the Easter Bunny is one of those traditions and was something we had not done with my son since he was diagnosed at 2 with severe autism spectrum disorder. The crowds, noises, and long lines all conspired to simply be too much for Jackson so each year we just chose to skip it. This year, we were fortunate to learn of a new program called Caring Bunny, which made it possible for all of us to visit and pose with Mr. Bunny together! This program allowed families with special needs to come to the mall before it opened to spend as much time as you wanted with the Easter Bunny! We took several pictures, the staff was friendly and conscious of Jackson’s possible needs (one employee asked if bells would startle or bother him before he used them), and zero lines or crowds! This was the perfect Jackson scenario – even giving the Easter Bunny a high five and hug before we left! It was a special memory for me and I am thankful more and more organizations are implementing special needs time into their “typical” programs.
In the five years since he was diagnosed, I have learned to “adjust” my holiday expectations so my son can actually enjoy and participate in each holiday in the best way he can, not being forced into doing something just because I felt we “should” (i.e. Seeing the Easter Bunny!). These past few years, we all still dye eggs together- though we do it now in steps, take lots of “breaks” and enjoy making a mess together. Jackson used to have a lot of sensory issues with different textures and even getting his hands wet, but through years of OT, he now really enjoys these experiences. He helps select the eggs to boil, watches them in the bubbly water and then drops them into the colored water. My husband and I hide them for him in our backyard and though he doesn’t really understand why, he will “hunt” them on Easter Sunday, though just being outside on a spring day is “holiday” enough for him so that’s what we do! (Hunting eggs is also a fun way to work on our IEP goal of following 2-step directions in the natural environment – “Jackson, pick up the egg and put it in your basket”!)
Jackson still has challenges with attending church service, though he enjoys the opening live music, often “dancing” in the aisle. I will also have an Easter basket for Jackson – which I have learned he will take several hours to go through, just as he does his Christmas and birthday gifts. I no longer include typical, age-appropriate Easter fare in his basket, but I stock up on fidgets, chewies, Sesame Street DVDs and bubbles which I know he will truly enjoy. I hope that you and your family are able to enjoy some extra time together and even some of the “traditional” Easter holiday activities – even though they may be adapted to fit certain needs by following your kiddo’s comfort level. Of course, there is always room for a little bit of Easter candy in Jackson’s basket each year – that is something we can ALL agree on and enjoy together! HAPPY EASTER!