Sunday, 8 December 2013

An Autistic Christmas -Making your own traditions

Well it's that busy time of year again. Life is a series of concerts,performances and Christmas meals in our household and with all the practices leading up to them it can be a tiring time.

My daughter has been rehearsing all year for a Christmas dance performance which came to fruition on Friday. As I watched her in her Michael Jackson costume of trilby,Shirt and tie, blazer and black shorts I realised that she was growing up and to put it quite frankly - in her element!

She has it all to do again next week but this time it will be a mother /daughter affair as I will be singing with my choir at the same performance!

A couple of years ago it stretched to three of us.My eldest played the drums, my daughter played the flute and sang and I sang in the choir!

Dad and my autistic son stayed well out of it! And that's how it is most Christmasses. Whilst three of us rush round like whirling dervishes (and my husband attends the odd Christmas meal), my autistic son needs 'sameness'.

When he was little he used to get so excited in the run up to Christmas that I remember him shaking as the 'real'  father Christmas walked past in a local procession. Luckily, because we had twins and couldn't keep up with who had given them what , we started a tradition of opening presents at intervals throughout the day which kept the suspense going and meant that they had time to study each present properly and play with it before they got on the the next one.

Again luckily, and quite by chance.we decided when we got married to create our own traditions rather than follow the traditions we had both had as children - mainly because they were so different we would have fallen out over it.. When the children were born we started a tradition early of not having a huge 'family' Christmas, we felt that it was a time for the children, not a time for driving up and down the country rushing from relative to relative. It turned out our intuition  for a calm, family time with no pressure was right.

We discovered early on that in the aftermath of Christmas my autistic son went into a huge depression for a couple of days, was horrendous  to deal with and needed to be left alone. We now know that he couldn't cope with all the Christmas parties, nativity plays and changes in routine which school threw at him and home education has allowed him to 'be himself' without judgement.

So whilst I go singing in an old peoples home today, my son will stay at home as he no doubt will at our Christmas concert next week. He will manage an early Christmas meal at his Grandma's as he knows the set up and there won't be too many people and he will manage a trip to the cinema to watch The Hobbit if we time it wisely when everyone else is at school or visit the early evening performance.

And as for presents- he just wants money - and believe me he won't be too happy if he gets lots of presents and no money as he is saving up for a gaming computer.So money it is and no surprises, because surprises knock you sideways when you are Autistic.

But we are lucky- we will have a Christmas tree, and crackers, and a proper Christmas meal unlike many families with a child on the spectrum.So spare a thought for those whose children don't understand,those who become 'creative' by having pictures of Christmas trees on the wall rather than the real one, virtual advent calendars because real ones are too scary,fish fingers and chips because that's what their children always eat and who feel alone because they would love to have a child who dressed up as a shepherd ,or sang in the nativity without becoming overwhelmed by the noise, the lights and the change to their routine.

But all is not lost,if you can change your own expectations of your child and harder still change or ignore the expectations of those around you who don't understand then you and your child can have a very peaceful Christmas. If anyone has found ideas which work for their Autistic children,please do share them here. You never know you might be making a huge difference to just one family!

However you spend it though have a peaceful and calm Christmas in your household from all of us!

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