Adjusting our family's Thanksgiving traditions for my son with autism

By Kathy Hooven | November 20, 2018

This blog post was written by Kathy Hooven, mother to a son with autism. You can read more about Kathy and her family on her blog, "The AWEnesty of Autism." You can also follow her on the AWEnesty of Autism Facebook page.

kathy and kids

The turkey is coming, the turkey is coming! And my son could care less. It’s almost Thanksgiving, and for many, this is the most cherished of all the holidays. Family, food, parades, football, shopping and no school/work, so, what’s not to love? Well for my kid, change. And Thanksgiving is full of not your run of the mill day to day change.

Last year, my sweet sister hosted Thanksgiving and she made sure to check in on what Ryan needed. My heart melted when I walked into her kitchen and saw that along with the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes, there was a pot of water waiting to boil my son's Velveeta Shells and Cheese, which is HIS Thanksgiving Day tradition. With all this preparation and all this love for my boy, he still had a meltdown because, yep, you guessed it, change. You see, this was our first Thanksgiving at my sister's house and I didn't think to give Ryan an assigned quiet place when it all got to be too much, so when it all got to be too much, he shut down.

He (we) got through it and went on with our day, however, Ryan wasn't truly himself until we pulled into our driveway and he ran up to his room and began happily scripting the latest meme he loved. Back to his space. Back to his routine. For years, these less than stellar moments would plague me for days, but, not so much anymore because I try so hard to not compare my Thanksgiving day cornucopia to yours.

The cornucopia has become symbolic with Thanksgiving. Many tables will be adorned with fall colors, fine dining ware and perhaps in the center of it all, the cornucopia or The Horn of Plenty. After all, Thanksgiving is the time we are to be grateful for the abundance of good we have in our life. Our cornucopia is said to be "overflowing".

There was a time though, that I cursed the cornucopia, feeling that the cornucopia at my Thanksgiving table still had plenty missing. Yes, I had three healthy beautiful children, a great husband, supportive friends and family, a job I loved and a beautiful home, but, all I could see was what was missing. It was hard for me to see the abundance of blessings in my life back then.

All of my friends' cornucopias were filled with play dates, activities, kid parties and on Thanksgiving, turkey, so, without all those things for my son, my cornucopia felt kind of empty. When your child is autistic, those things do not come in abundance, but, so many other things do, if you are able look past what you think is missing, you will see all that is there. My goodness, how did I not see my "overflowing" cornucopia?

Looking back now, I'm ashamed of all I didn't see. The challenges my son overcame, the fears he fought head on, the progress he made and the love he gave to me in abundance. In abundance. I spent so much time focusing on what I felt was missing, not what he felt was missing, that I was in fact, the one who was missing out on so much.

It took me a few years to see that not everyone's cornucopia is filled with the same blessings. Blessings come in different shapes and sizes, but, they are blessings none the less. If I could go back in time, I would grab that cornucopia and whack the old me over the head with it, but, since I can't, I will call my sister and thank her again and remind her she does not need that extra pot this year, as we will be at my in-laws this Thanksgiving with our box of shells and cheese in tow.

We will be sure to have a quiet place for Ryan along with his Velveeta Shells and Cheese and whether or not my mother-in-law adorns her table with a cornucopia will make no difference to me, because I know how blessed I am on Thanksgiving Day and every other day of the year. Yes, my cornucopia is indeed overflowing and since my kid doesn't eat turkey and stuffing, my plate will be overflowing with his share too.

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