Christmas and the Autistic Child

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Most children like Christmas right? For many on the autistic spectrum, Christmas is a stressful time of year. The inevitable changes to routine are enough to send some children spiralling into one meltdown after another..

Same for autistic parents.

The Boy’s anxiety has been climbing for weeks. As soon as things change at school his behaviour deteriorates. He’s on a VERY short fuse and the simplest of requests, like taking his coat off, has him throwing stuff and stomping off upstairs screaming that he wants to DIE. He’s eight going on thirteen only this is him BEFORE the hormones kick in!

Can you imagine when they do?

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Trip hazard? Or my son when the testosterone kicks in?

The Boy’s need for me is ever greater as he battles with a brain that struggles to cope with Christmas. He likes Christmas but struggles with it just as he struggles with a lot of other things he likes.

There are no decorations up at our house yet as we’re trying to keep stimulus to a minimum and my anxiety is so bad that the mere thought of them makes my heart race. The control freak within me struggles to allow other people to do it and in the past when I have let the kids, er, ‘help’, I have stood there fighting the urge to rugby tackle them to the floor in order to prise the baubles from their clammy little hands. *whispers* I re-did it once they were in bed. It’s something I don’t like about myself but it’s a pathological need for certain things to be aesthetically pleasing in my eyes.

When it comes to visiting Santa, forget it. It’s a sensory nightmare.

Queuing = Hell.

Noise = Hell.

Migraine inducing fairy lights = Hell

Sitting on Santa’s knee. Do they still do that? = Hell.

I hated it as a child. The Boy managed one minute in a queue once and we had to leave. Do your child and yourselves a favour and go to an autism friendly session where the visits are timed, you can take your own present. Visiting Santa should be a pleasant experience for every child, no?

There are things you can do as a non-deranged parent to make things a little easier for your autistic child.

Decorations

  • You can involve your child in buying decorations or letting them help you to put them up.
  • Introduce the decorations gradually. It’s probably best not to have it looking like Santa’s Grotto if your child gets easily overstimulated.
  • Give some thought to your Christmas lights. If your child is very sensitive, a migraine inducing strobe effect probably isn’t the best idea. Static or gentle fade in and fade out lights will be more appropriate.
  • Use countdowns for putting the decorations up and taking them down.
  • Use social stories and visual calendars.

Visiting Santa

  • Check your local papers/social media for autistic friendly Santa-sessions

Presents

  • Mountains of presents will overwhelm most autistic children so it’s best to limit how many they get or don’t put them all out on Christmas Day.
  • If your child has sensory issues pay attention to the paper you use to wrap the presents with.
  • If unwrapping make them anxious then don’t wrap them at all.
  • Place a familiar toy next to the new presents.
  • Try some gentle classical Christmas music in the background especially if classical soothes them normally.

Family

Don’t feel under pressure from your family. If you know your child can’t cope with a big family get together on Christmas Day, then don’t be afraid to tell them to sod off – albeit politely. Your child’s well-being has to come before Great Aunt Ada parking her arse on your sofa all day scoffing the Quality Street eh? Life is different when you have an autistic child. If people get it, great. If they don’t, educate them until they do get it. Maybe give them a book on understanding autism as a Christmas present?

Familiarity

Christmas Day is just the three of us. There are no visitors. There is no Christmas dinner with party hats and other such paraphernalia. The Boy has his usual food and bedtime is the usual time with the usual ritual of a story and his Classic FM.

The Rules are that there are NO rules when it comes to autism. Each person is different. Some love Christmas, some don’t. All autistic people are affected but not necessarily in a negative way.

Me? I find Christmas stressful BUT it’s also the season of fairy lights and I BLOODY LOVE fairy lights!!

As a child I used to lie on the floor under the Christmas tree and stare at them for hours on end. My Nan, having downed a few brandies, would say, “You’re a funny little girl” I used to wonder why she was calling me funny when I hadn’t said or done anything funny. Now I know she was calling me weird. MY OWN GRANDMOTHER!!

Christmas is difficult for me in ways which most people wouldn’t understand. I’m not a Christmas hater – it’s just that there is too much going on and that sends my anxiety orbital. Social media is crammed with Christmas. TV is bombarding us with adverts/mini-movies for the hard sell and it gives me a headache. If I could cherry pick bits of Christmas it would be lights, carols and the act of giving. You can keep the crowds, commercialism and my pet peeve, ‘Secret Santa’.

I don’t suppose it helps matters that my father decided to shuffle off his mortal coil on a Christmas Day. To lose someone you love on any day of the year is bad enough but to lose them on Christmas Day is epically crap. The image of Dad’s lifeless body while Noddy Holder screeched “IT’S CHRISSSSSSSTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS” is forever seared into my memory and while I fight to bring forward the memories where he was the life and soul of Christmas, this one always wins.

As regards The Boy, we try to keep things as close to normal as is possible. Whatever ‘normal’ is.

Header Image via Creative Commons