Our Ramadan Preps are with Autism in Mind

D spinning his beads. It's magical.
D spinning his beads. It’s magical.

The Ramadan preps are in full force around me — from the texts, WhatsApp messages and social media posts being passed back and forth sharing certain du’as (prayers), schedules for daily Quran reading, to ways to engage children, crafting and reading projects to help kids connect with the fasting month to advice how to fast safely and break fasts with healthful foods and so much more.

Memes on avoiding fried foods upon breaking one’s fast. Advice posts on how to maintain an exercise routine while fasting/praying. Articles about how to adjust one’s sleep schedule to maximize nighttime worship while still doing the daily grind of work or school. Articles about other ways women can worship and connect while they are on their periods and not fasting.

Even how to find time in a schedule that is meant for increased spiritual connection with Allah and worship through fasting and prayer to maintain spousal relationships – you know, making time for (marital) sex.

Then there are the million and one articles, posts and messages being shared on food preps. Preparing a food schedule for the month and shopping/prepping ahead so one’s time isn’t wasted figuring out what to buy, cook and eat when it’s time to break fast. Prepping special and favorite iftaar (fast-breaking) snacks and food ahead of time. Thirteen easy and fast suhoor (pre-fast) meals that will help you feel full longer! Drink these things smoothies to avoid dehydration while fasting! Prophetic meals!

Things you can do if you cannot fast (due to age, health reasons or mental health reasons). Articles about the Ramadan struggle – how to regain that elusive connection to God and build better spiritual and life habits while sluicing off the negative ones.

The 99 names of Allah challenge – commit to memorizing three names of Allah daily. Planning for Tarawih (night) prayers. Special daily lectures to listen to. Ramadan advent calendars to put up. And on and on and on.

I know – I’ve written, edited, published and produced more of these articles in my 16 years of covering Muslims in America then I can count.

And yet – none of these preparatory posts, articles, messages and listicles do anything for me. Well, that’s a stretch. Sure, I get inspiration and ideas from some of these pieces. But the preps are entirely different in my home. The thoughts, worries, challenges and how to approach those challenges considering the fasting month rarely hover in the realm of food preps or prayer/Quran schedules.

Because, well, autism.

The past two-three weeks have been rough in the evenings. Nighttime anxiety and issues have plagued D, who is now almost 17, for several years. We’ve worked the medical, behavioral, sensory and every angle in between to try and create the most calming, peaceful and healthful bedtime routine for him as possible. Some weeks go well, and then the issues come roaring back, as they have now.

In the past when this happened, especially if Ramadan was close, my anxiety levels rose exponentially. Fasting is hard enough while managing D’s school-therapy-work schedule and maintaining the level of supports he needs. There are our other children to consider as well, with daughter A fasting now as well. The husband works long hours as a physician, with relentless call nights and weekends.

When he comes home exhausted, and there are still about two hours of fasting to go, the flak can be fierce, no matter how hard I try to prep things ahead of time. Everything comes to a head at the same time – dinner for H and D, last-minute iftaar preps, hustling the kids through homework and showers, meds and supplements and wrapping up stuff for work.

And, if the pre-fast-breaking time is hectic, the post-fast-breaking time is precarious. Once you break a 16-17-18-19 hour long fast (depending on where you live), that first hour is often a quiet one – eating, drinking, resting before you settle in for nighttime prayers at the mosque (or at home) or whatever else you need to do. Our post-fast-breaking time colludes with D’s anxiety/meltdown/LOUDNESS time.

That’s when everyone needs the most amount of patience. That’s when patience is at its most scarce.

So, my preps are mental ones. What can I do to make that evening schedule as less hectic as possible? What delicate conversations can I have with the husband and kids to help us all come together as a family to be more patient with each other? What else can be done to facilitate D’s peace of mind and calm, to bring some quietness and ease to the home? Who will hang with D so the others can replenish after breaking their fast?

How do I help my husband and myself grow more patience and maintain our cool? How do I put my faith back into Allah to guide me through and show me how to best help D while helping myself, too?

How do I not fall prey to despair? How do I find that communal connection of love and worship when most of our time will be spent at home?

My preps are of the heart and mind. The Quran will be read, maybe in chapters, maybe in snatches here and there. Maybe it’ll come in the listening of the holy scripture in the dark while I sit near D’s bedside. The special iftaar foods and things that the kids and husbands want – they’ll be made with love whenever we all can manage. Tarawih prayers will happen a few times if we can manage. We will pray at home.

But, the real emphasis will be what it always has been — autism living. Because God knows. He knows, and He knows acutely in the yearning and aching prayers we make. In the desperate beseeching we do. In the sometimes humble and ready and other times angry and dragging acceptance we have of His will.

To all my Muslim autism and disability families out there – to all of you who are autistic or living with disabilities, I pray your Ramadan is one of ease and love. I pray you find your way.

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