In my family, much like any other Latino family-we’re loud. The colors on our walls are bright, the food is seasoned with a cornucopia of flavors, we hug a lot, we kiss a lot. Everything we instinctively do, the cultural practices and traditions of who we are is a nightmare for autistic children.
My son will say hello and give kisses to family and friends he’s familiar with. Sometimes new friends he meets at get togethers si lo caes bien (if he likes you). But even through his enormous progression, he still battles with kissing me, his own mom and dare I say most favorite person in the world (kidding, that’s dad or grandpa) a kiss when he gets home from school.
I know I can’t take it personally those are the types of things he just struggles with.
For example, Christmas. Phew, Christmas. I only had a couple of aunts and their families come -8 people added onto our family of 10 that he’s used to. And although we were eventually ok…I distinctly remember the “greeting” he gave my aunt when she picked him up and tried to kiss him: A heavy hand to the face.
He melted down at least 3 times Christmas morning and it was no one fault, really. We were just being ourselves and it was just.too.much.
I finally realized that being Latino and autistic is hard.
We love hard and show it…any child who denies a kiss or hug is usually met with some side eye and comments about the parents (I know this is not just Latinos). It just goes against who we are.
But on the flip side, it is, what I feel has slowly but surely helped my son communicate and interact with the world. When he regressed, he didn’t want anything to do with anyone except his dad and grandpa who naturally played rough with him, thus fulfilling his need for sensory input. I thought if he doesn’t want to hug me, I won’t force it. I want him to be comfortable and not feel like I was being overbearing. Let’s be real, sometimes our tias took it too far with the constant squeezing and hugging. Like, give me a sec to breathe, Conchita!!!
But I think it became a bit of therapy for him. Like a mom’s version of Occupational Therapy. I’d turn kissing or hugging him into high intensity play time. He had his sensory input, and I got to be affectionate with him.
We are where we are today, at least in a small part to the fact that we are loud, affectionate and full of love in the most vibrant of manners. I was tempted to bring it down, even debated whether the bright mementos and décor in my home was ”too much” for him….He will adjust. And if I notice that he doesn’t, then I’ll tone down.
I was scared of losing my identity and culture to autism. On top of being loud and vibrant, we are a proud people, y’all. How in the world was my son going to know his culture and history if we had to tone it down? If we had to throw every to the wayside in the name of autism…well the truth was and still is that we don’t. We are more than our colorful wardrobe, art, food and loud music. We are love at the same capacity in which we express our pride and love would get us through anything.
So my son knows Jose Alfredo Jimenez and Marc Anthony, but for some reasons passes on Celia Cruz (it might be because Mom can’ help herself and dances a little too crazy for him, but Ill blame it on the bass line). Frida is all over our walls, and no one loves Abuelita’s arroz and tortillas as much as Max.
When it comes to family gatherings, I put Max’s autism out there first. I get it out of the way and make sure everyone knows it so they don’t wonder or tip toe around why my kid is running away from the swarm of outstretched arms and puckered lips my other kids are running into. I don’t ask my family to be quiet, or not to door say certain things, play music, etc. The way we see it, this world can’t make every single exception for him/his autism so he needs to be able to adapt and adjust and he has. We’ve progressed to a point to where I only have to tell him once to say good bye, and he knows the drill-every tio, tia, primo, prima gets a kiss good bye. It may be a gentle headbut, or just allowing someone to hug him with his tablet in hand-it’s progress!
When we get back home, we’re back in his world. It’s a little quieter If I put on the cleaning music (yes THAT cleaning music) I’ll pop in head phones so he can watch his videos or play on his own without the over stimulation.
So although we often have to ‘turn down the volume’ so to speak, we’re still teaching our kids the beauty of our culture and heritage and embracing while embracing and adjusting to challenges autism brings.