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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Will Neufeld looks like a typical 12 year old racing up the sidewalk from school to tell his parents about his day. But, navigating life on the autism spectrum is all about behavior.

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“We’ve been on planes before and people don’t necessarily know that Will has autism, and we get the stares and we’ll get the the looks and we’ll get the huffs and we get the puffs,” says his mother, Dawn, “so those are pretty difficult to deal with.”

Will was diagnosed as a toddler and began therapy early. Still, even those things that delight many children during the holidays can present a challenge for those with special needs.

“Bright lights on the tree, loud music if we wanted to play Christmas carols in the house, those were things that were really difficult for him and could trigger a meltdown,” says Dawn.

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So the mother of two says she avoids the holiday frenzy when she can. But, she knows that not all special needs families have that option.

“I think more people do know a little more about it; and are a little bit more aware but, that doesn’t mean that people are necessarily more tolerant. We’ve gotten the stares, we’ve gotten the looks: kind of get your kid under control. Sometimes you feel like a bad parent because your kid is not acting like everyone else’s kid.”

So a simple plea on behalf of those families who already have enough to deal with: try gifting them with some compassion, patience, and perhaps a sincere smile.

“I’ve known a lot of parents who go out of their way to not interact with society,” says Neil Massey with the Autism Treatment Center in Dallas, ” when in fact, we know that socialization is often the best thing for a child with special needs.”

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“Even if you don’t know a kid has special needs, just take a step back,” suggests Dawn. “It’s the holidays. It’s a little bit stressful for everyone, of course it’s a little bit more stressful for our families.”