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When a Gingerbread House is More than a Gingerbread House

This is a post by Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, mother to two sons on the autism spectrum and an Autism Family Partner at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Kim is also the author of a blog about her two children with autism, at autismmommytherapist.wordpress.com. Kim's book Raising Autism: Surviving the Early Years is on sale on Amazon here.

We made a gingerbread house today, my youngest and me. Not the fancy version mind you, with its cinnamon-spiced cookie walls and sticky-sweet icing for snow, but the felt version, as I have yet to figure out how to create an edible construct that’s gluten and casein-free. The form doesn’t seem to matter to Zach however, as he seems content just to forge this linen building with craft glue and discretely adhered masking tape. He is simply happy to sit at our designated table with his mommy, and design his own.

I am thrilled to be here with him as well, as this is the first “Christmas house” we have built together, and the added bonus is it conjures up the requisite images of festive architecture from my childhood past, pleasant in their remembrance. As I sit with him and attempt to gain better purchase on the tiny chair I am well aware of the enormity of this gift, the ability to carry on a tradition with my child, one who is eager and willing to perform it with me, one who miraculously was able to request its creation.

It’s the last month of the year, and as always, just like the commencement of the school year, it’s a time of reflection for me. I consider where we’ve been and where we now reside as I help Zachary fabricate his house, watch him carefully separate out the pieces of his one-dimensional art form with such care, and manipulate the tiny forms with such ease. He desires to begin at the top of his home and work his way down, and as I’ve never been one to insist on coloring in the lines we alter our blueprint a little, an act we’ve committed time and time again in our tiny family of four.

He begins with the roof, which he tells me firmly we require because “it will keep everyone warm and cozy”. As I contemplate how he’s incorporated the latter adjective into his lexicon of words, I am simultaneously reminded of the outpouring of care and compassion we’ve received over the years, the small and grand acts of largesse, and the kind words, both spoken and written, to encourage our clan in times of conflict. These acts have blanketed us, permitted this family to retain the heat, the fire necessary to forge through the most searingly difficult times. We could not have built our own home without them.

Once the roof is safely adhered, Zach moves onto the windows, neatly punching through the cloth panes of glass to afford us a glimpse of the other side, allowing us to widen our view. I recall how watching my youngest son’s language expand, and my oldest son’s increasing desire for social interaction, have both enabled me to envision a different world for my children this year. We now inhabit a home in which the future may hold more than just fleeting glimpses of a “normal” childhood, one in which both of them may actually one day possess a true friend. I am so grateful for that expanded vista, for the possibilities inherent in those translucent frames.

Finally, Zach addresses the foundation, shoring up the edges with his tiny fingers immersed in solvent, asking me if his careful ministrations are correct. I smile and tell him his house is lovely, as in its own way, is our own. Our foundation has also been conceived in patience, moored in consistency, cemented in love. It’s not seamless, and there will always be cracks. But it will continue to stand.

It will always stand.

And my wish for all of you in every year to come, is that your own house, no matter how it’s constructed or what form it takes, will continue to stand, wind and weather-battered, as magnificently strong as ours.

Read more of Kim's beautiful blog posts for Autism Speaks here!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.