Written by Thomas F. Hassell
Thomas Hassell is a board member for United for Autism and holds many volunteer roles in and out of the autism community. He has won several awards as an advocate for the autism community and has consulted for local theater productions.
Introduction and editing by Dawn Turnage, PhD, DNP
Dr. Dawn Turnage is a PhD and DNP and Lecturer at the University of Central Florida. She is an autism researcher and advocate and is the current Chair of the Board of Trustees for United for Autism.
November 19, 2021
Introduction by Dr. Turnage
This piece was written by my dear friend and fellow board member at United for Autism, Thomas Hassell. I have edited the blog while doing my best to retain Thomas’ voice and perspective. The piece gives us a glimpse into Thomas’ world as he discusses the challenges, but also the good, when celebrating the holidays as an autistic adult.
The Holidays for Me on The Autism Spectrum
Yes, it is that time of year, again: Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a time of family reunions and a time of happiness and being together, but for those of us on the autism spectrum it can be a time of loneliness and the stress of lots of noise and family drama.
The last several years, especially during the pandemic, it was difficult not seeing family members. These past years, I celebrated the online version of the holidays. While I enjoy seeing my family, sometimes it is difficult to hear about their active lives and trips. I have a fixed income and, during the pandemic, the only trips I had were with our adult autism support group. Sometimes, when I tell stories about my adult autism support group, I feel like people are not interested in hearing about these trips. I expect to be home alone for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
We have a local church where I live that has an annual Christmas party and gifts for all the residents of our building and Santa always makes an appearance, which is very nice! I also look forward to seeing my closest friends from college days. We always get together before the Christmas holiday and exchange gifts. We will very deeply miss our dear friend, Maureen, who passed away this year, but I know we will still enjoy our visit.
I also worry about buying the right Christmas gifts for family members. Normally we would gather at either my brother and his wife’s place or my youngest sister’s house either before or after Christmas. As much as I love seeing my loved ones, it can stress me out because I must mind my p’s and q’s and not say anything wrong, so I always choose my words very strongly while I am at these social gatherings.
There are nice things about being alone on the holidays. I like that I can watch whatever I want, and I enjoy watching the Christmas parade or watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel. I learned to cook from my late mother, who was of Italian descent, so I can cook my own turkey and other items for Thanksgiving dinner. On Christmas, I buy an oven roaster Chicken. As far as decorating my apartment, I do have lights in my living room windows, I have a small church scene on a small bookcase, and a fully lighted and decorated artificial tree because that is what our apartment building permits. I try my best to stay in the holiday spirit and enjoy the holidays.