According to the Autism Society of America’s website, people with autism often exhibit “insistence on sameness; resistance to change.” Fortunately, Alex does not typically display this need for routine and is usually quite flexible. He enjoys spontaneity; for example, he’s ready and eager to go anywhere on a moment’s notice, even if he’s watching a favorite tv show, engaged in a good book, or busily working on his computer. He loves going places. Perhaps the best illustration of his adaptability is his fondness for holidays. If asked what he likes about holidays, Alex describes them as “special” and/or “rare,” both of which he sees as positive attributes. This reminds me of a line from The Little Prince, one of my favorite books, in which the title character asks what rites are and is told, “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour different from other hours.” For Alex, the rites of holidays and other special events create variety that he not only enjoys but also eagerly anticipates as he awaits their arrival, counting down the days on his calendar.
Like many kids, Alex’s favorite holiday is Christmas. When I asked him what he likes about Christmas, he immediately answered, “Jesus Christ.” This was the same reason he gave for liking Easter, which he informed me is his second favorite holiday. While I was pleased by the reason he gave, I was actually surprised that was his first response. When asked if there were any other reasons he preferred Christmas, he did give a more predictable answer: “Presents.” I always find it interesting that Alex doesn’t just take pleasure in getting presents for himself, but he also genuinely enjoys watching other people receive and open presents, even gifts he thinks are “boring,” like clothing. After Christmas and Easter, Alex’s third favorite holiday is Fourth of July, one that arrives without presents, but features fireworks instead.
In theory, Fourth of July should be difficult for Alex with the unpredictable and loud fireworks. Even when he was younger and had sound sensitivities, he still enjoyed fireworks. He would cover his ears at times, but was never upset by the sound of explosions. After we did auditory integration training with the EASe disc, a home-based program in which he listened to instrumental music played at various frequencies to lessen his sound sensitivity, Alex no longer covered his ears when he heard loud noises. When he was younger, we took him to our city fireworks display, which was then held at the county fairgrounds, and he looked forward to this annual event. In recent years, a neighbor puts on a very impressive fireworks display that we can watch from the comfort of our screened porch in our backyard. To be truthful, what seems to please Alex most is the sheer number of fireworks, as we hear him quietly counting each explosion with a smile on his face. He will then compare each year to previous years in terms of the number of fireworks. In addition, Ed lights smaller, legal fireworks for Alex to enjoy (and count), and Alex likes to set off Snap and Pops, small bits of tissue paper that crackle when he throws them down on the sidewalk. Despite the unpredictability of fireworks, he likes the predictable routine that we’ve established; he knows what activities usually surround the holiday. Ed has commented that he thinks what Alex likes best about holidays and special annual events is the ritual of the activities that surround them. While these special and rare days are different from other days, they still have a routine that is familiar and comforting to Alex, and that makes holidays memorable for him.
“This is the day which the Lord has brought about; we will rejoice and be glad in it. “ Psalm 118:24