Santa Pictures And The Autism Family: 10 Ways To Not Go Completely Insane

14 Nov
  1. A week ahead of time, start showing your autistic child pictures of Santa Claus, and tell him that this is the dude whose knee he will be sitting on in order to get a picture taken. Try your best not to be distracted by the neurotypical five-year-old sibling who is bouncing around like the Energizer Bunny on steroids yelling, “Ho ho ho! Hairy Christmas!”
  2. At T minus two days, have a dress rehearsal at your house. This is imperative if you want the autie to wear a suit and tie and he has a tendency to melt down if you try to get him to wear shirts that don’t have horizontal stripes. You’ll probably want to have another dress rehearsal the day before.
  3. The evening before, bath your kids and wash their hair. Do the autie first. If you do the hyperactive neurotypical child first, the autie will head for the hills the second he sees the shampoo bottle. Instead, let the hyperactive neurotypical child dive for cover, hide the shampoo until it’s time to use it, and have a reward system handy. I use gummy bears. Whenever the autie opens his mouth to scream, I just shove another gummy bear in. I have become a master at washing a screaming, flailing autistic child’s hair in less than ninety seconds.
  4. Try not to think of the fact that sometimes, ninety seconds feels more like ninety years.
  5. When you wake up on the morning of the Santa visit, call the photographers who are doing the pictures. Tell them that you have a child with autism, and that if he’s made to wait in line he will have such a bad meltdown that the entire building will crumble and the place will end up looking like an archaeological dig. Most people will accommodate you if they know ahead of time that your child has special needs.
  6. Bring changes of clothes for the kids. As soon as the picture has been taken, the autie will want to put on a shirt with horizontal stripes, and if one isn’t available there will be trouble.
  7. Right before you leave your house, call the photographers again and find out if all their equipment is working. Technology comes with its share of problems, and if you have wait around while they try to get their printer to connect wirelessly to their laptop, your frustrated kids will band together with all of the other frustrated kids who are there, and they will start a Lord Of The Flies kind of mutiny. Believe me, you don’t want to caught with a crowd of angry children. They will overpower you. They will tie the grown-ups to poles and dance around them holding spears and chanting.
  8. Don’t let the absence of spears fool you. Kids can be frighteningly resourceful, especially when they are ticked off and have among their number an autistic child who knows how to think outside the box.
  9. When you are granted entrance to Santa’s domain, don’t mess around. Say hi to Santa, get the picture, and leave. Don’t wait for the autie to make eye contact with the camera lens. You will be waiting until the cows come home.
  10. When it’s all over and you are sobbing in the bathroom from the stress of it all, remember that this experience was positive. As you look at the picture, don’t think about all of the planning and angst leading up to it. Reflect on the fact that you have succeeded in doing a typical family activity. You have brought immense joy to the hyperactive neurotypical child, who shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity to sit on Santa’s knee. And you have taken another step toward teaching your autistic child some vital coping skills that will help him for the rest of his life. Know this, and feel good about what a great parent you are.
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One Response to “Santa Pictures And The Autism Family: 10 Ways To Not Go Completely Insane”

  1. Ruth McBurney Quint November 14, 2011 at 2:41 PM #

    Rule 9 1/2: Instead of a camera, take a 10 second video of the session. Then go home and clip out the one split second where your autie is a) looking and the camera and/or b) smiling/sporting a neutral expression. I use the freeware Streamclip, and it has vastly improved our Christmas card look!

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