Every year around this time I come down with an acute form of memory loss. I call it Passover Brain. With just two weeks to go before the first Seder, the panic sets in and suddenly it’s as if I’m observing the holiday for the very first time.
Where did I store the seder plate? How do I get those crumbs out from way underneath the oven? Does anyone make haroset safe for my nut-allergic kids? And why–why–is the only thing in my “Pesach” folder a 3-year-old shopping list?
The biggest missing piece, though, has nothing to do with what I need to do to get ready. Instead, the thing I most wish to find in that skinny file is a guide on how to prepare my son Benjamin for this crazy holiday.
Because of his autism, Benjamin, 9, has an incredibly difficult time with change. This is a kid who breaks down when I take a different route to school or heat up his lunch in the toaster instead of the microwave. Throw in the fact that his life basically revolves around food–”his” food–and Passover (which we observe strictly) becomes pretty daunting. No soy bacon in the morning. No grilled cheese Wednesday night. No restaurant Pizza Sunday night. It’s going to be a long eight days.
Since I can’t remember exactly how I’ve geared up in the past, this year I’m figuring it out as I go along. Here’s what I have so far.
1. Write a social story, i.e., a book explaining exactly what the holiday is going to look like–and more importantly, what the pantry is going to look like.
2. Involve Benjamin in the shopping. The social story helped introduce the idea that Passover is coming, but I saw it all click for him when we rolled through the special section in the grocery store. He helped load up the cart and then, when we left without matzah (I’d planned on getting it somewhere else), he spun the cart around and grabbed a 10-box case.
3. Find substitutes for his favorite things. Okay, so there’s no way around the cereal dilemma–Crispy Os will never, ever pass for Cheerios. But beef fry in place of the soy stuff he loves just might do the trick.
4. Start weaning him off his favorite things immediately. I’ll admit it: One of the reasons Benjamin is so rigid is because I let him be. I pack him the same exact snack every day because I don’t want to deal with a tantrum when he doesn’t get the yogurt, apple, Oreo, and bag of Pirate’s Booty he’s expecting. But as bad as that tantrum might be, there likely won’t be one the next time. Constantly changing it up is the key to increasing his flexibility. In other words, it’s time to bust out the Tam Tams.
5. Print out this list and stick it in the file. Right now.
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