For most families living with an autistic loved one, everyday holds certain demands. Holidays, like Easter, provide even further challenges for those with autism. The traditions most people take for granted must be approached from a unique perspective.
Zack, who is 11 years old, is moderate to high-functoning on the Autism Spectrum. He loves the idea of Easter. He enjoys the treats, the décor, coloring eggs and finding them once the Easter Bunny has hidden them around his house and yard. However, each of these traditions require some extra effort and attention from his parents.
Last year, he went to his first community egg hunt. It was held in a botanical garden in Key West, Florida. About 80 Easter revelers lined up on the wooden walkway that meandered through the beautiful grounds. When the time came to begin the hunt, all heck broke loose. There were children everywhere combing through the foliage, crawling over Mangrove roots, ducking under Magnolia branches, oblivious of the welfare of others; it was cutthroat. Zack, in his own little world, running on his own time, got scooped over and over again, by other, more competitive youngsters. He did not seem to mind. He would stop and look at the contents of each plastic egg while the masses grabbed, deposited and ran on to the next treasure. When a 10 year old gets shoved by a six year old for a plastic Easter egg with a sticker inside, it can be heartbreaking.
Another aspect of the whole egg hunt ordeal is that Zack’s searching skills focus more on the finding than the actual seeking. He can get extremely frustrated if the eggs are too difficult to find. This can take some of the fun out of the process for the “Easter Bunny”. However, the less creative the hiding spots, the less anxiety for the child.
Probably the greatest Easter challenge for some parents of autistic kids is finding appropriate treats for their baskets. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are on a gluten and dairy free diet. They also are not exposed to copious amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors. This leaves most of the candy aisle offerings out of his basket.
Zack will not be getting a chocolate bunny simply because it is impossible to find a true dark chocolate one that doesn’t cost $10. Luckily, the Easter Bunny knows where the health food store is. For an 8 oz. bag of organic jellybeans, you can expect to pay about $5. The same company, Surf Sweets, also makes gummy worms. Plus, Zack really loves Yum Earth Organics lollipops. Sweetened with fruit juice, all of these products are not only safe for most autistic children, but they also have added Vitamin C. He will also get a new Easter Pez dispenser. Even though the ingredients aren’t optimal, they have new molds for the dispensers this year.
Despite the fact that Zack loves the process for coloring the first egg, his Mom is always left in the kitchen by herself to finish the project. When she is done, he comes back and inspects her work. He usually approves with some “oooos” and “ahhhs.”
April is Autism Awareness Month. Please, keep this in mind as you partake in your springtime festivities this weekend. If you know anyone with autism or families that are impacted by the disorder, see if there is any way that you can help them with one or two of the challenges they are facing this Easter. The gesture would be very much appreciated.
Commentary by Stacy Lamy