Sunday, November 27, 2011

Autism and Holiday Spirit

The Holiday season is once again upon us and it is a time for great joy, hope and anticipation. It is a time to gather with our family and friends and it is a time we enjoy because it allows us to share in the celebration and festive occasions of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. We all have a lot to be thankful for at this time of year and we all wish to be touched and inspired by the true meaning of the season. We live each day of our life with the intention of doing good and always being supportive of our family and providing the very best we can. I have learned over the years just how important family and friends are and I know what it feels like to be alone and uncertain. We always try to minimize the uncertainty in our life but we are always going to have to adapt and realize that it will always be there.

We just have to have faith and hope during the holiday season and enjoy the times we get to share with our family and friends. We also need to find a way to become closer to God and our savior at this wonderful time of the year and throughout the years ahead. It is our faith that allows us to become closer to God and our family and when we believe we then are able to find the courage and strength to live our lives and enjoy the beauty and wonders of life. I know things are not perfect and many are suffering because of the times we live in. I try to reconcile within myself how to find happiness in a depressed time and sometimes I am not sure but I know I must be strong for my son and my family and I have vowed to be there for them for as long as I am lucky enough to walk the earth and share life with them.

We must remember that there are many who are struggling and we should try to help those who truly need help. It is the holiday season that brings out the good in all of us. We also may be feeling the pressures of the times and are forced to make sacrifices in our life as well so we are not as able to give as we once were. We must never lose sight of our hope and faith as we face each day. It is the holiday spirit that will help us through even the darkest of days. We must truly believe this and when we feel we are encountering difficulties and are in a time of need that is when we need to look to God and pray for his guidance and his help.

I know what it is like to feel alone even when I am surrounded by loved ones. We all go through this. I even see it with my son as he desperately seeks to find friendships in his life. He has always struggled with feeling alone as an autistic child. Autism is sometimes hard to grasp as it seems to hinder a child's way of connecting with others. My heart breaks for him as I love my son very much and want to do all I can for him. I hear his pleas for friends and I am not sure sometimes the immediate solution. I know establishing friendships take time and you must find suitable situations to allow for the possibility of developing meaningful and lasting friendships. I hear my son's words and I can sense the loneliness and isolation he feels and I am very concerned as I should be as I think of what I should be doing to make his wishes come true. I try to spend as much time with my son as I can when I am able to as I feel this is very important. It is not a solution to him finding friends but it is equally important to bond with him and do things with him.

This holiday weekend we had the pleasure of entertaining a co-worker and guest from India to a festive Thanksgiving day dinner. Matty was very happy to have a friend over for the holiday. It is nice to make others feel welcome especially when they are apart from their families and so far from home. We enjoyed his company and my wife and mother-in-law prepared a wonderful dinner with all the trimmings and made him feel at home. We also planned a day in the city for Friday after a visit at the Fire Island Lighthouse in the early day. It was a very fun filled day and Matty and our friend had a wonderful time. We visited the lighthouse and climbed to the very top. We saw the view of the island and found it was beautiful. After our walk on the beach we stopped for pizza and headed to New York City where we drove by the World Trade Center site. We drove over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan bridge as we headed to the Empire State Building. We took the elevator ride to the top and admired the view of the city. We were quite impressed as we saw the backdrop of the city and the wonderful skyline. We then walked to Rockefeller Center and to Time Square. We stopped at Toys R Us and then headed back to the car for the drive back home. I was happy to see Matty smile and my friend and co-worker from India really enjoyed spending time with us and we enjoyed spending time with him.

I believe these experiences are good for Matty and I feel he learns and enjoys these outings but it still does not solve the major crisis he is experiencing of trying to find friends. My friends from India are always so kind to Matty and treat him like family. I am so very grateful for their kindness and their good wishes. I have learned so much from them and Matty always loves to see them when they travel here. I have learned the genuineness of friendship and what it means to open your heart and make someone feel welcome. They always make my son and I feel welcome and we are so very grateful and we try to also make them feel welcome especially because they travel from so far and are away from their families.

If I could do one thing for my son it would be to allow him to be himself and not to be afraid. I would want him to always believe in himself and never lose faith. I want him to be strong emotionally and to find true friendship. I want him to always feel safe, protected and loved. I want him to realize that even if he is autistic he is a wonderful kid and he deserves a life filled with opportunity and friends. I want him to always have the childlike innocence he has during the holiday season all year round and throughout his life. I want him to always believe and to know he is always loved by his mom and dad and by so many. He is very special and he should always know he is a great kid with a kind and caring heart.

The one regret I have which I am working to change is that of limiting our contacts with others due to our son's autism. I know our son has his struggles and his share of meltdowns which have been part of the reason but I feel that when we limit his contacts we are perpetuating his isolation and this is what we want to avoid. We want to open up his world, not close it and when I see the bonds my friends from India have established with Matty it has opened up my eyes and made me realize what true friendships are even if they come from great distances. During the holidays it is equally important to expose Matty to many so he can share the wonders and joys of the season and experience what true holiday spirit is all about.

Edward D. Iannielli III