Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holidays... Autism-Style!!

Last year I was extremely fortunate to start working with an amazing organization. It's called the Autistic and Handicapped Children of Central Florida. For the past 39 years, they have held an annual holiday party for children all over the local area with special needs. What started with a handful of kids in a backyard, has now grown to more than 1,200 kids at the Pines of Windermere - a beautiful outdoor facility in Southwest Orlando.

With this year's party coming up on December 6th, I've spent the last month recruiting volunteers from my company. One of the best parts about my job is that we get a "Wish Day" to volunteer for any non-profit organization of our choice. Most people like to do their Wish Day in a big group, and this is the perfect setting because they need as much help as they can get! Last year I recruited about 25-30 people, which was a great turnout. This year we've already had more than 90 volunteers sign up from Wyndham and I couldn't be more proud! I'm hoping that in the next week we can score 10 more and hit 100! What an amazing group of people I work with!!!

That's because holidays are tough - no matter who you are, but holidays can be extra stressful for families living with developmental and physical disabilities. To many of those families, it can be a big reminder that they're "not like other families" who experience holidays like Christmas with kids running around all excited or playing on their new bikes in the front yard. For a real life example - my son with autism has OCD and would rather unwrap and organize his toys by height than actually play with them! (I find it quite amusing since I am a little OCD myself and I can see why that in the midst of all the chaos from Christmas that organizing helps!) But we're really lucky. JD learned how to ride a bike this year - after an entire year and a half of working on it - and this year we're really hoping Santa will bring him a big boy bike instead of more dinosaurs or Thomas the Tank engines!

But even in the midst of difficult times for these families, it's people like the volunteers at my company that really make a difference. To many kids, this holiday party might be their entire Christmas, and going home with the memories of ponies, bounce houses and boat rides are more important than the newest tech gadget to them. Feeling loved, included and accepted is the best gift of all!

I'm really looking forward to the holiday party and be sure to stay on the lookout for pictures! Here's one of me and JD!