Home > Family Services > In Their Own Words – Holiday Card Lore

In Their Own Words – Holiday Card Lore

This “In Their Own Words” is by Ali Dyer, the Social Media Coordinator at Autism Speaks. Her older brother Jeff has autism.

Tis the season of holiday cards! For the past 28 years, our family has sent a photo to our patchwork of family and friends. We are not that family that sends a long newsletter with updates of the fabulous year we had, nor are we the ones that send a generic holiday greeting. We send a photo, of the whole gang, mostly shot with a self-timer.

You should know that before my phenomenal photographer of a mother decided to move out of the dark ages and into the world of digital photography, we were reliant on film. After one of our staged photo shoots, we would run to the one-hour-photo and hope that there would be at least one photo we could send. If not, we were back at it!

My brother Jeff, who was diagnosed with autism 23 years ago, isn’t always the most photogenic guy and it is a challenge to get his handsome face to look at the camera natural and at ease. The rest of us have to hang tough, smiling away with hopes that Jeff looks good in one, often making the sacrifice to look our best.

Rather than blame Jeff for unflattering photos of myself through the years, I defer to my mother. She loves everything about the holidays. ‘Christmas Carol’ is her moniker and with reason! Once her ‘Christmas iPod’ surfaces, I know that our home will be transformed into the North Pole in no time! She will be decked out in her holiday jewels and sweaters, cranking out thousands of cookies for her adoring fans. Her wackiness really brings us all so much joy during the season.

We keep it with us through the year because every holiday card is featured down our staircase. We are constantly reminded of bad haircuts, braces, wild fashion statements, and terrible concepts. To tell the truth though, I can’t help but smile and laugh as I look at them.

I am thankful that these shoots have left behind an entire archive of unused photos. Our cards have popped up everywhere – schools, restaurants, newspapers, you name it, and it’s been there! Here are some “misfit” photos (a little Rudolph humor, get it!).

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This year, you should know that our card is extra special. In the beginning of June, our family transitioned to a new phase. Jeffery, at the age 25, moved into a group home. It has been a wonderful experience, but needless to say difficult and trying. After two weeks of Jeff getting settled, we took a family vacation to our beloved Montauk, where our photo was taken.

Montauk has always been a safe haven for us. Hopping on a plane was never an option, but piling in the car and heading to the tip of Long Island was. Jeff always had the run of the place and we could enjoy our relatively private beach without the glare of strangers. This year was so special because the five of us were back sleeping under the same roof. Jeff didn’t miss a beat making the transition from his new home. He seemed older to me; making his bed, cruising to the beach for an impromptu bonfire, even napping!

On this particular day, we were surrounded with friends. We hit the beach earlier with a whole group of loved ones. Of course it wasn’t all relaxation – we all took turns making trips to the ocean to fill Jeff’s buckets, which he would dump out moments later. Eventually, we made our way back to the house to make a huge feast. Eat, drink, and be merry!

As light flooded through the dining room and the sky began to change, we knew we had to start moving to show our guests the gorgeous Montauk Lighthouse sunset, the spot of many Christmas cards.

We got to the Light House and hit the ground running; skipping rocks, climbing the jetty, and hamming it up for the camera! I was in heaven. All of us were together again, sharing our favorite place with our favorite people. Jeff was beaming with a smile on his face, ear to ear.

For that night autism didn’t matter. The months of sadness and stress were a thing of the past. Our family was able to make it through, in one piece, stronger than ever. Jeff is in a wonderful place and he showed us that night, that we aren’t a thing of the past to him. He will always love us and come home to us, even with his newfound independence. As a family, we laughed and loved. This year we had scores of photos to choose from, taken by our friends, on that amazing night.

Pictures say a thousand words, and I think it is important for the folks who receive our card this year to have the back story. Every year our card comes from a place of love, but this year, it may have a little more.

So from our home to yours – eat, drink, be merry, and have a wonderful holiday!

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

    December 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I loved it and you really caught the essence of our tradition. The Montauk part made me cry!! I know you covet my Christmas regalia, especially the jewels!!!
    Love you!!!

  2. Bill Dyer
    December 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Hey Al:
    Wow !! That was really special. You captured our Christmas Card Tradition and Jeff’s transition to his new “other” home perfectly and gracefully. You also nailed on the head your mother’s sense of Christmas glee. Jeffrey has made all our hearts soar as evidenced by your words above.
    Love ya…Dad
    P.S. glad you didn’t include the pix of my holding you upside down off the deck ala Michael Jackson

  3. Bob Munigle
    December 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Awesome. Really awesome.
    But who is that good looking young guy with the dark hair and mustache in the photos?
    Luv ya,

  4. December 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Great article, Alison. I shared this with our LinkedIn Group ‘Parents with Patience’.



  5. Gena Marra
    December 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    This is fantastic. I have always admired the way you and your family love and care for one another. Merry Christmas to all of you.

  6. Jen Parsons
    December 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Love the pics – love the story. Great job capturing what your family and the spirit of the holidays are all about.

  7. Sarah
    December 3, 2010 at 6:51 am


  8. Liz
    December 3, 2010 at 8:31 am

    So true. I loved this story and can relate in so many ways. Perhaps my daughter will write about her brother one day with such insight. Thank you.

  9. Sophia Groce
    December 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing those fantastic photos.

  10. December 3, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you so much for letting us have a peek into the life of your family. I love your FAMILY!!!!
    xoLaura Shumaker

  11. Becky
    December 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Ali….what a beautiful tribute to your family. How appropriate that I read it today as I am approaching the weekend in which we will be attempting to get our own yearly Christmas photo. My son Brett is 6 and loves the camera as much as your brother Jeff! I love the part where you talk about how the rest of you have to “hang tough” and smile while your parents focused on a good picture of Jeff. I tell my daughter who is 9 the exact same thing…keep smiling and looking forward! We will worry about Brett! :O) LOL. Somehow, we have always ended up with a beautiful pic of both of them….my hopes for that to carry over in to this years pic. I can’t wait to look back when Brett is 25 and feel these same feelings. What a special family you all have! Have the best of holidays! Becky~

  12. Tom
    December 3, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Ali–wonderful story with a wonderful message for all those who struggle during the holidays: Always keep looking forward even when things seem so difficult. Because they do get better. In looking back at our holiday cards of our boys (twins on the spectrum), it’s amazing to think how far we’ve come. Thank you.

  13. Mike & Susan Mandell
    December 3, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    What an amazing story! You truly captured the essence of the season- Family & Friendship is what it is all about! And- what a truly beautiful family you have!
    Merry Christmas!

  14. Anne
    December 3, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    What a wonderful story and what a beautiful family you all are! I would love to see this year’s card that you’ve described so beautifully. Have a blessed and peaceful Christmas and New Year, and good luck to your brother Jeff in his independence. I pray that my 6 year old grandson who also has autism will one day experience that same independence!

  15. Marisa Meratante
    December 4, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Beautifully written, I loved this!! You have a beautiful family and I am blessed that I had your parents for my Teachers as well.

  16. uncle bob
    December 6, 2010 at 10:01 am

    great photos & blog ali. I was so glad to hear how much fun you guys had with jeff in montauk. You folks will always be a tight & loving family
    uncle bobby

  17. Katie Wright
    December 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    So beautiful Ali!!!!
    I love what you said about settling for any family picture that is halfway decent even if the other members of the family look terrible. Very funny!

  18. Carol
    December 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Allison, all of you “Dyers” are such wonderful people and since Jeffrey has now become one of “My Kids” Do I now get to be in the next Holiday Card? Did’t think so, I’m not tall enough anyway. Carol Mc

  19. Kathi Blacker
    December 14, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Will we get to see the awesome picture this year on this site?
    Great piece–as a teacher of preschoolers with autism, I will share it and they can begin their ‘wall of wonders’ of the family portrait and know it is ok just the way it is!

    All of my families do not have computer access, but those who do will get the link directly that way!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Kathi B

  20. Autumn
    December 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Beautiful touching story! Thank you for sharing.

  21. lisa dente
    January 6, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Love this blog and the photos that go along with it are priceless. I miss your face!
    XXOO Lisa

  22. Gail Sinram
    January 9, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Oh my I can sure relate to this. I have 3 boys and boys are more difficult to get photos of but my son with autism is just like your brother. I love the photo where it looks like he putting his finger in his nose. I have so many pictures of Brandon either picking his nose, bitting his fingernails, doing somehting weird with his lip, and or staring off. I used to get so discouraged but I now love these pictures!! I’m sure your mom loves these pictures as well. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you have been such a help with your brother. I hope my 2 other children will do the same. I’m confident that they will though. People like us that are given such a gift even through rough times, seem to have very big hearts.

  23. Dr. Ed Fisher
    February 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Dearest Ali – – Wow – – your family is like my family – -the pictures are simply wonderful – – the only person missing in the photos is me Keep the work going I am so very proud of what you are doing you are a very special young lady Ed Fisher

  24. December 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    What a wonderful blog entry. I have small kids, one on the spectrum, and I live for our photo cards every year. I’m inspired to make a Facebook album with our Christmas card photos through the years. Merry Christmas!

  25. December 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story and pictures! They are a delightful look at the holidays!

  1. April 28, 2011 at 9:40 am
  2. August 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm
  3. November 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm
  4. January 5, 2012 at 9:01 am
  5. February 3, 2012 at 8:52 am

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