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By Kevin Carter
Over the years, the Walker family in Chicago has learnt how to customize the Thanksgiving Day, a ritual which begins quite early in the morning. This is because when Jason Walker is agitated staying in the house when his mother cooks dinner, he and his father Patrick goes to watch the Thanksgiving parade.
Jason has autism spectrum disorder. Though he loves watching the parade, Jason can’t stay there for long. Too much color and noise causes sensory overload. When he has had enough, Jason and his father start walking back home. They walk all through the neighborhood and arrive home a little before dinner is served.
When they were living in Tennessee, Jason’s condition was easy to accommodate because of the open lands. He was able to bolt up from dinner whenever he wanted, go out and take a walk, and come back to finish his dinner.
But in a city like Chicago, where cars speed at breakneck speed, the Walker family can’t allow Jason to go out at his own free will. But Jason knows how to communicate, courtesy the “What’s the Expression” and “All Sorts!” apps that run on his iPad. For several years now, Thanksgiving Day has become much smaller for the Walkers; it’s just Jason, his parents, and younger brother Melvin.
The meal is simple and traditional. A giant turkey with the stuffing Jason likes, pumpkin pies and ice cream. But no guests arrive, and there are no extended toasts. Jason can speak but doesn’t converse. He has to be kept engaged in talking while eating.
The Walkers had to let go all the expectations and pretty pictures that’s usually associated with Thanksgiving. No guests come to their home because with all the commotion around, Jason feels lost.
But the Walkers are not alone. With autism increasing at an alarming rate all across the US, soon there will be more families that will celebrate Thanksgiving like the Walkers. Autism experts have expressed concern about how much autistic kids feel left overwhelmed at these events.
While awareness on autism spectrum disorder has grown over the years, many people are still unaware of how to deal with autistic children. It’s not that they are insensitive. It’s simply that with all the guests arriving, they forget to make special provisions for the autistic child. In the midst of all the arrangements, an exclusive space where the autistic child can be all to himself, is usually missed out.
As the name suggests, the What’s the Expression app helps autistic children of all ages to express themselves in various situations. The All Sorts! app, on its part, helps children in sorting skills with observation.