The Sensory Santa
By FumblingThruAutism on December 14, 2012
Getting a good Christmas photo of Beth last year was challenging. It took two sessions at the mall. After countless bad pictures, I finally directed the guy at the second photo place to "keep clicking as fast as possible and I will make her smile." I got exactly one good photo, but I felt lucky to get one at all. On the way out of the mall, Beth and I passed by Santa. On a whim, I threw her on Santa's lap, she looked at the camera, and we got a Santa picture. She wasn't smiling, but she wasn't sad either. She had no idea she was sitting on Santa's lap, because she was quite disconnected from her surroundings at that time.
This year I decide to skip the formal photo session, and just try for the Santa picture. I have no idea what to expect, because Beth is, thankfully, much more aware now. She knows there is a guy name Santa and there is no way she will sit on his lap without realizing it this time. So, we throw the dress on, walk up to the line, and give it a go.
I should have been more worried about what to expect from Santa and his elves than what to expect from Beth. Beth keeps putting her hair in her mouth and chewing it lately, so that is our first problem. I run up to Beth on Santa's lap and pull the hair from her mouth several times, while the elves try to get a picture. Then Beth decides that Santa's beard, his very real beard, is a wonderful texture and she must run her hands across the front of it. Santa is not amused. I make a joke and try to laugh it off. Beth is not pulling on his beard, just feeling it. Santa takes her hands down a few times, and I try to help him. Next Beth decides the fluffy white ball on the end of Santa's hat is the best thing she has felt in a long time. Santa keeps trying to get her to stop touching it. But again, Beth is not pulling on the hat. What is the big deal? In between Beth's sensory party on Santa's lap, the elves are shooting while I try my best to sing a song to help Beth forget the sensory stuff and smile at me. No luck. So, after a very short session, with no one behind us in line, the elves say, "We got several, we think that is enough." I sigh, as I realize that Santa and the elves do not understand my kid. I go to get Beth off of Santa's lap and now she has a hold of the while puff ball on the end of his hat and refuses to let go. Santa's hat comes off, I apologize, and pry the hat from Beth's hands to return it to Santa. As I am doing this I am laughing, because, quite frankly, the whole thing is pretty damn funny. But Santa just says, in a very frustrated and sarcastic way, "Yeah, she is really cute." The pictures were sub-optimal, but there is no way in hell I am doing this again. So I buy the only one where she is looking into the camera without a strand of hair in her mouth.
I am sad about the Santa picture experience. Not because I didn't get the best picture, but because it doesn't have to be this way. With a little understanding and sense of humor by Santa and his elves, this could have been a much different experience.
I take my child on outings frequently, and we have a lot of interesting interactions with the public, some good, some not so good. A good friend said to me recently it might be time for autism awareness cards. Maybe she is right.
The problem I have with autism awareness cards is that they invariably make the person you give them to feel like crap. Here are some opening statements for free printable autism awareness cards on the web:
"I am sorry if my child's behavior bothers you, ...."
"My child is not bad...."
My all-time favorite opener for an autism awareness card is this:
"My child is not a spoiled brat. My child has autism..."
Well, the above does not seem like the best approach to start an open dialogue about autism.
There are less hostile choices, like making cards with an autism awareness logo on the front, and a definition of autism on the back. But will that just make the receiver feel as if you think they are stupid and need a definition? Will that open their hearts to help them understand autism?
I decide on a different approach - autism awareness cards that will invite others into our life. It will be clear to the receiver that my child has autism, and I want them to be aware of it, but it will welcome them to do further reading if they are interested. So, here it is, our autism awareness card. And when I hand it out I will say, "My child has autism and I started a blog. We are doing the best we can. If you are interested in reading about us, here is my card."
1. Photo by Piera Lolito, http://www.bypiera.com/