Sunday, November 27, 2016

'Tis the Season

Alex loves the holiday season and eagerly anticipates this time of year every year. This week, we enjoyed a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner with my parents that he helped me cook. Yesterday morning, we were able to get together for breakfast at one of Alex’s favorite restaurants with my siblings and their families and my parents. Although being in a crowded restaurant in a group of fourteen people could have been daunting for Alex, he handled the situation quite well and enjoyed being with his grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

After about an hour, however, I noticed the subtle appearance of the dreaded “claw.” When Alex is overwhelmed or not happy about something, he bends his wrist down into an acute angle and bobs it up and down to let us know he’s not pleased. I was pleased that he waved the claw under the table so that only I could see it. Using the techniques that I have learned from his behavioral therapist, I told him that I knew he was upset and asked if I could do anything to help him. He waved his claw again to make sure I had seen it and then quietly told me, “It’s too hard to remember the haircut calendar.”

The haircut calendar is Alex’s go-to excuse that simply means he’s overwhelmed. He used to tell us when he was upset that he “never wanted to use the typewriter again!” No one was making him use a typewriter; this was just something he blurted in frustration. However, we know better than to minimize his anxiety, so I calmly told him that he had just had a haircut two weeks ago, which seemed to calm him a bit. I also gave him the option of going home––not as a punishment but as a way to escape a situation that may be upsetting him. He insisted that he wanted to stay, and he was able to use calming skills so that he was able to snap out of whatever was bothering him and enjoy the rest of the time. While I wish Alex didn’t have to suffer from anxiety, I’m happy that he has learned to deal with being upset without causing a scene and that he can calm himself instead of escalating into a meltdown. This is a huge blessing.

Yesterday evening, I had to employ some calm down skills of my own. Alex needed to have blood drawn for his regular six-month lab tests to make sure he is healthy and to check that his medication levels are appropriate. Thankfully, he never minds having blood tests, and lab technicians always remark on what a good patient he truly is. My anxiety was with the check-in clerk who was rather insistent that he needed to fast for ten to twelve hours prior to these tests. However, Alex does better in the evening when he is calmest; therefore, we always do the testing in the evening. Although I explained this to the clerk, she made some remark about the tests being inaccurate and told me that she would tell the lab technician that he hadn’t fasted.

Even though I knew I was doing what was best for Alex, I somehow felt as though I was being chastised and wondered if I would get more flack from the lab technician. However, we soon discovered that the warm and friendly lab technician was an autism mom herself who completely understood why we did not have Alex fast prior to the test. She explained that she never made her son fast before tests, either. I prayed for a sympathetic lab technician and was given an empathetic one who told us to ask specifically for her by name whenever Alex needed a blood draw. Not only did she enthusiastically praise him, but she also gave him apple juice as a reward for his bravery. As we chatted with her afterward, we were thankful to have someone who completely understood our situation. That was a huge blessing.

Earlier in the week, Alex had been talking with his behavioral therapist who was asking him about his favorite times of the year. He explained that his favorite month was December because Christmas and his birthday are in December. He went on to tell her that Christmas is his favorite holiday. When she inquired why, he immediately responded, “Because it’s Jesus’ birthday!” Of course, I was delighted by his answer, as was she.

As I put up Christmas decorations over the past few days, I’ve been trying to remember to savor the effort instead of resenting the extra work. I have decided that I’m going to do things that bring joy. My mom had asked Alex what his favorite decorations were, and he told her, “The cousins’ stockings.” Ironically, I had not yet put up the dozen small stockings with his cousins’ names on them, so he was remembering them from last year. In fact, I was debating about putting them up at all because it was one more task to do. However, once I discovered that they were his favorites, I immediately hung the stockings on our stair railing because they bring Alex joy, which brings me joy.

After I finished hanging our huge assortment of ornaments on our Christmas tree yesterday, Alex carefully surveyed my work, smiling as he studied the ornaments. When I asked him what he thought and what grade he’d give me, without hesitation, he enthusiastically told me, “A+!” Certainly, that high praise made the effort worthwhile, but his joy was an even greater reward. Most of all, I’m thankful for my son who reminds me that the true importance of Christmas is finding joy and celebrating the birth of God’s son. What greater blessing could there be?

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.” Luke 1:31-32

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