The minute I walked into my son Zack’s school Hanukkah party I began tallying the ways in which it was poorly suited for an autistic kid. My autistic kid, anyway.
Obstacle number one for Benjamin, Zack’s big brother: The table at the entrance, full of shiny made-in-China Hanukkah paraphernalia which Benjamin immediately started groping, much to the dismay of the bubbes from the affiliated synagogue hawking the stuff. Right after that I carefully steered my sugar-obsessed and impulse control-challenged child past the very tempting and very open cups of icing at the cookie decorating station. Then we hit the actual party, which was basically a bunch of tiny maniacs zooming across the athletic field (that’s right, an outdoor party in December—gotta love Florida living), throwing back latkes and diving into the foam pit to the beat of the blaring music.
Great, I thought to myself. A whole hour until my husband Moshe would arrive, which meant a whole hour chasing Benjamin up and down the field, hoping he wouldn’t get lost or freak out when he heard his least favorite noise de jour, i.e., someone speaking into the microphone.
The thing is, as hard as these kinds of events are for Benjamin (and as hard as it is for me to manage him at these events), we have to keep on attending. Not only because it’s unfair to make Zack to miss out, but because exposing Benjamin to new and over stimulating situations is the only way he’s going to get used to them.
For a while that evening I was very conscious of how all of his hard work, practicing at various birthday parties and field trips and big Shabbat meals, has paid off. Yes, I was on edge and resentful of the other parents who didn’t know how lucky they were to be able to casually chat with one another as their regular kids romped around. But Benjamin seemed to be enjoying the playground, not to mention the endless supply of Fruit By The Foot. It could be worse, right?
The answer to that, as I learned just moments later, when Benjamin lunged at me and bit my face, was yes. It could get worse.
It was shocking and painful and totally embarrassing. But I dragged Benjamin off to the side and cried to Moshe on the phone for a couple of minutes, and then, like it always does, it got better.
By the time Moshe showed up with Ayla, our toddler, the crowd had thinned out and Benjamin seemed more relaxed. Moshe made me laugh with some dumb joke about Benjamin’s holiday biting trend (there was last year’s Hanukkah party and also that time at shul a couple Yom Kippurs ago), Ayla danced with Zack and his friends up on the makeshift stage, and I got to chat with a couple of moms from Zack’s class.
I walked out feeling a little bit sore in the spot where Benjamin got me, but also happy I hadn’t succumbed to that little voice telling me to stay home.