Celebrating Christmas with Scarlett
When we last met Scarlett D., age 6, she was a spunky preschooler already defying expectations and making leaps and bounds in her communication skills with the help of early intervention therapies. Now, two years later, she has transformed!
First grade has seen Scarlett turn into a social butterfly with a love for reading, math, and especially music. While doctors initially said that Scarlett would never speak, she has proven them all wrong. Thanks to speech and occupational therapy, Scarlett is exceling at in-person school and even won a blue and bronze ribbon in her school’s accelerated reader program.
“I think Scarlett and her journey gives other families hope,” says her mom, Caitee. “She has proven that a diagnosis will not define her. She will pave her own path. She will learn whatever it is you want her to learn but do it on her terms in her own way and still get it done.”
The pandemic turned everyone’s lives upside down in 2020, but Scarlett faced the challenges head-on and made her family proud. Scarlett and her family persevered through the disruptions in her routine, choosing to homeschool through kindergarten to maintain stability. Autism Speaks virtual events kept them feeling close and connected with her community, even as the world became more isolated in the wake of COVID-19.
“We were so blessed that even during a time when the world was in crisis, we still managed to fundraise and did our social distance team walks!” explains Caitee. “The amount of support Scarlett receives from friends, family, and just people who know her story is still surreal to me. We’ve had people from teachers to doctors and service providers text, email, and call me to let me know they saw Scarlett on TV!”
But while Scarlett has grown so much in the past two years, she is still learning and overcoming some struggles. Sensory issues make feeding Scarlett a challenge—especially around the holidays—and her family is working to help her become more daring in trying new foods.
“Overall, I just want her to keep reaching for the stars and proving anyone who ever doubted her abilities wrong. She is an outstanding child, and I am really the lucky one. I’ve always said Scarlett was meant for big things. Slowly, she’s changing the world and the stigma behind autism and the stigma behind having a child with special needs,” says Caitee.
Learn more about Scarlett and her family’s holiday traditions in this Q&A with Caitee.
How does your family celebrate the holidays?
On Christmas Eve, our family goes to Queens to celebrate with extended family. On Christmas morning, we open Santa’s gifts under the tree at home. We then celebrate with Scarlett’s aunt Miki at her house for brunch. On Christmas afternoon, we go to Scarlett’s uncle Ryan’s for Christmas dinner.
What are some of Scarlett’s favorite holiday traditions?
Scarlett likes to decorate for holidays. She helps her grandmother decorate the outside lights on the front bushes. She likes decorating our Christmas tree by telling grandma and mommy where to place the special ornaments she has been given. She likes visiting Santa at the mall and telling him her wish list. She writes a letter to Santa asking for gifts that grandma mails to the North Pole because she worked for the post office. We put reindeer food outside the house for Rudolph. We leave a special key on the front step for Santa to get into the house because we do not have a chimney.
What are some of the biggest challenges that she faces during the holiday season?
Scarlett had challenges at one point with meeting our extended family in one place because she did not like the change of the noise level in the room and the abundance of people. Now that she has progressed, she has gotten used to large crowds and fluctuating noise levels. We are still working on encouraging her to taste new holiday-themed foods that are served at Christmas. She is resistant to deviate from her typical foods.
How do you make sure that your family’s holiday festivities are autism-friendly?
We are planning to go and visit our family. If Scarlett begins to feel a bit uncomfortable, we will adjust to help her feel calm. If that doesn’t satisfy the situation, we can always say our goodbyes and come home. I never want her to feel uncomfortable, but I do like her to at least give things a try.
What you do to prepare Scarlett for the disruption in routine?
Last year was the height of COVID. Scarlett was virtually homeschooled. We stayed home and had an immediate family Christmas. We watched Christmas shows and movies to keep Santa’s spirit alive because we couldn’t physically see him.
Do you have any tips for other families hoping to make their holidays more inclusive for loved ones with autism?
Hopefully this Christmas, COVID regulations will allow families to celebrate together again. My tips would be to make sure to keep the season as traditional as you can. Make sure you can adapt to your child’s individual needs. Keep the day as close to their prior Christmas or holiday as possible, and always try to stay happy and joyful.