Damned if I do and damned if I don’t

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With the 2011 Holiday season quickly approaching, we have many tough decisions that will need to be made. These decisions revolve around participating in Holiday parties, get together’s or other large gatherings. As special needs parents, Lizze and I often find ourselves torn between wanting to attend these events and staying home.

As many of you can probably attest to, these types of stimulating events can be very difficult on our ASD kids. In our case, my kids love going to these events, however, at least some of them will quickly become over stimulated. If we don’t have problems while we’re there, which is typically not the case, we will certainly have problems over the next few days. It’s really interesting (and maybe interesting is the wrong words choice here) how my kids can be overstimulated in such a short amount of time but then take days to decompress afterwards.

Is this something that you folks experience as well?

Each of my kids seem to react differently to these situations and each ones deals with the overstimulation in their own way. However, the fallout as we like to call it, is exhausting and very often destabilizing to the entire family.  The problem is, in our case, having 3 boys on the spectrum, creates a situation where everything just sorta….cycles. What I mean is, if Gavin is overwhelmed and has a meltdown, that can destabilize Elliott and Emmett. In turn, Elliott or Emmett’s response can make Gavin’s situation worse. In a sense, they feed off each other.

Typically, Gavin is the most sensitive to these types of potentially overwhelming situations. He really enjoys attending these functions but simply and through no fault of his own, can’t process everything.

As far as the 2011 Holiday season is concerned, we haven’t quite worked out the logistics yet. I don’t know what we are going to do. I do know that we will avoid large, loud and crowed situations like the plague. As far as smaller, more low key functions are concerned, the jury is still out.

Thankfully, our families have come to understand, at least as much as possible. They always try to reassure us that everyone will understand the meltdowns and it’s not a problem. What I know for sure they don’t understand is the fallout. Whether or not there are meltdowns that occur while we are there, historically, has absolutely nothing to do with the aftermath of attending.

Simply put, we deal with fallout regardless of what happens while we are actually at the event. This fallout can range from the more typical overstimulation to moodiness and sleepless nights. In Gavin’s case, the fallout can, and has been much more severe. Kids with Schizo type disorders tend to compensate in situations like what I have been talking about, no matter how positive the event may be. In the past, these events have led to psychotic breaks for Gavin.

Psychotic break, simply means, loosing touch with reality. Gavin doesn’t become homicidal, but he will start hearing and seeing things that don’t exist.

This leads me to my final question.

Do you exclude one child from such events and let the others go? I mean, if, let’s say, Gavin can’t handle a Christmas party, should one of us stay back with him while the other goes with the rest of the boys? Should we all stay back as a family?

I know the general consensus among our doctors and therapists is, just because one child won’t do well, doesn’t mean we should rob the other’s of the experience. That’s easy to do in theory but much more difficult in practice. The simple act of trying to protect, say, Gavin, from one of these situations, may be enough to cause the same problems we are trying to avoid.

At least in the case of the Lost and Tired family, there is no clear cut right or wrong. This makes trying to decide what to do feel alot like playing Russian Roulette. In our experience, that one bullet in the chamber, will always fire when we pull the trigger. This is why I have grown to dislike the holidays. I never know what to do and typically, whatever I decide, has repercussions. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

What do you find that works for your family? Do you your kids have similar issues with the holidays? I would love it if you could share your experience because I think we could all learn from each other.

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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Great question!! We used to opt out of mostly, well, everything. As my sons have gotten older, we are learning to tell what is important to them and what we were doing out of courtesy to others. We normally only go to those 'important to them' events–and just try to modify the environment and experience as much as we can. (For example, we will move to a quieter room with fewer people if it is a large event and have our own side activity.) Lastly, we suck it up. We KNOW that there will be a consequence to us for all of this merry-making activity, but memories are memories and sometimes, we sacrifice to make them!
My recent post Entry Fifty-Three: Meltdowns. Suck.

Megan C Kitchen

We still mostly skip them. We have also learned, since our family is all 6 hours away by car, to plan at least 4 days for any event. One day after we get there to get used to everything, day of event, two days afterward to get back to normal. THEN the 6 hour car ride back. If we dont do it that way, then the 6 hours is filled with screaming meltdown. AND it gives whomever we are staying with the experience from start to finish. Our family is starting to get it, and is no longer offended that we only come to 2 or 3 events a year. I would personally make sure any kids that can't handle it have something special at home while the others are at the party to make it fair.


yes we have this problem too. some times we split , and most of the times all the family stays home. the problem is that my severely autistic non verbal son cries too much and will have huge meltdown when his brothers go with out him . so some times I feel that being equally unfair to everyone count as being fair, what ever that means!!! so we all stay home…..


Great post! I understand also. 2 autistic boys ages 14 and 9 here. One meltdown sets of the other one here also. We too have had to modify our holidays over the years with the boys. I look at it as creating our own traditions. Some family get it, some still don't. It's easier for us to not even go to that situation that may cause more stress and anxiety. We stay home most of the time. If something is tolerable for one and not the other than yes we will take that one to a function and leave the other at home with the other parent. We've done that often. Actually in our situation the child staying home really doesn't mind. They don't want to do the function anyway. If it is a new or untreaded water situation then we just play it by ear. Sometimes we take two vehicles. Then if one needs to leave the other can still stay and enjoy.

Karen Webb on Facebook

Thanks for the great article! I completely understand. We have 2 boys with autism ages 13 and 16 and my family still doesn’t understand it when it comes to family functions. It’s best for us to all stay home.