For parents, bringing a child to a wedding is a mixed blessing: There are so many opportunities for cuteness, and just as many for misbehavior and meltdowns. The matter is even more delicate for parents of children on the autism spectrum, as well as adults on the spectrum themselves. But one parent recently shared on Facebook just how much a simple gesture of accommodation for her autistic son meant to her family.
“Our wedding RSVP included: 1- beef entree, 2- chicken entrees, 1- bacon entree,” wrote Jo-Ann Turning on the Facebook page of her family’s blog, Bacon and Juiceboxes: Our Life With Autism. “Yes, I seriously wrote that one in! Eric was a happy customer. It magically appeared in front of him during cocktail hour — and was very appreciated since he didn’t stay until dinner was served during reception. #familyrocks #theygetit”
Eric is Turning’s 13-year-old son, and as the name of his parents’ blog reflects, he really likes a certain pork product, which used to be one of the only things he would eat.
“I did it half-kidding, when I wrote on the RSVP card, ‘If I can order bacon for Eric, that would be great if I could have it. Otherwise no problem, I can just bring something for him,'” Turning told Yahoo Style, explaining that the wedding was for her nephew. “Then word got back to me: ‘No problem, they’re on it.'”
This was more than just a nod to someone’s dietary needs or preferences.
“I know I’m completely fortunate that my family is so inclusive, even though it’s hard — sometimes he’s not so warm and fuzzy with them,” Turning says. “My family, amid everything they were worrying about, took time out to do this. It was such a small gesture, but it was huge.”
Turning was grateful too that her brother’s family thought to seat them at a table on the outside of the reception tent, where it wasn’t too loud and Eric could walk around. She also said she felt it was important for her to be realistic about what her son could handle, and she chose not to have him attend the ceremony, in case he was disruptive. He lasted from the cocktail hour into the beginning of the reception, about 90 minutes.
After posting a photo of his wife and son on the dance floor, Turning’s husband, Jerry, explained to readers, “It wasn’t a home run. It wasn’t a fairy tale moment. He was well behaved and handled himself like a champ. But he wanted to leave. We held him off and bribed him to hang in there as much as we could. Mom got her dance, it was incredibly sweet, but he had to leave (thank God for Pop Pop) pretty much right after that picture was taken.”
Wedding forums are filled with brides and grooms wondering about the best way to include friends and family members on the spectrum without hurting feelings and without disrupting their big day.
“Some people deal with this situation by not inviting to the occasion the person diagnosed with autism,” wrote Irene Tanzman in Wedding Planner Magazine. This sounds like a hurtful solution. Instead, Tanzman suggests that wedding planners encourage their clients to open a dialogue with the family or friend. “In some cases, the family might opt to bring their family member with autism into the wedding celebration for only a short time, or they might think of some other arrangement. Your clients may request special accommodations for the individual with autism, such as a separate, quiet room away from other guests.”
A common symptom for people with autism is hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli — and there are a lot of sights and sounds to overload a person at a wedding. This separate, quiet space would allow the person to decompress if he or she feels overwhelmed. (This is also a pretty good idea for anyone inviting a nursing mother and/or small children who need to rest during the celebration.) Turning suggested that it would be helpful to give the family or caregivers a brief rundown of what the wedding will involve, including when it might get loud and when the party will move from one location to another.
Just because they experience things differently doesn’t mean that people with autism can’t enjoy a good wedding. In 2015, Anita Lesko and Abraham Nielsen, who both have Asperger Syndrome, got married at the Love & Autism conference in San Diego with an all-autism wedding party.
“One of the things Anita shared with me is so many times people on the spectrum are excluded from weddings,” conference organizer Jenny Palmiotto told ABC News. “She really wanted to have an open wedding so people of all ages and abilities could attend.”
For the Turnings, attending the family wedding was bittersweet.
“It was hard to describe how happy I was and how sad I was at the same time,” Turning says. “I wrote a whole other blog about the emotions that I went through on that day knowing that I might not have that kind of moment with my son. It was a very emotional weekend for me.”
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