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

 

 

Alone in the Universe

I like to be alone.

I am completely comfortable in my own company, probably because it’s only when I’m alone that I can be myself. There’s no need to pretend to be normal. I can just be me.

When it comes to loneliness, people usually identify it with physically being on their own. Not me. I can be in a room jam-packed full of people and still feel incredibly lonely because I know I don’t belong. That’s my lonely.

I didn’t ask to be born. None of us do. We are here by choice or mistake and nine months later, out we pop, with no instructions on how to do life. We are at the mercy of those around us and all too often those people let us down.

Those people who had a duty of care to me at school let me down.

As a child I played alone until the age of five and then I had to attend school, or ‘shithole’ as I call it.

School was where I was expected to socialise and interact using skills which I didn’t possess or understand.

School was where I was bullied by children AND teachers.

School was where my sense of not belonging started.

It was clear that other children didn’t like me but I didn’t know why. I tried my best to be invisible but all that did was make me even MORE conspicuous. All I know is that I came to dislike myself too because of it. I couldn’t bunk off because I knew it was wrong. Nor was I able to express my struggles to my teachers or parents so I had no choice but to endure every hellish second of it until I got home.

Home was where I felt safe.

Home was where I was loved unconditionally.

Home was where I could lose myself in my obsessions.

Yet even with my closest family, I was unable to be me. I belonged, yes. My parents would have loved me regardless of anything but I didn’t know how to be myself in front of them. Most of the photographs from my formative years are of me looking away from the camera. That was me before life pressured me into being someone I wasn’t in order to try and fit in. Personas and masks became necessary in order for me to survive.

Something that is common to ALL humans is the need to belong and be accepted by others. I have a need to belong in some meaningful way just as much as anybody else and I want to leave this world having made a difference in some small way. Yet for most of my life, I have felt alien, like I don’t belong here. I breathe the same air. I am a human being in every respect of the word except that my brain is wired differently and people know you are different. They can sense it even if they can’t see it, like Will Smith in Men in Black, who can spot the aliens a mile off despite them wearing their ‘human suits’. That’s how it feels to be me sometimes – an alien wearing a human suit.

These past few months have been an eye-opener for me. The most important change is that for the first time in my life I no longer feel alone in this world. Why? Because there are 700,000 autistic people in the UK alone so add to the rest of the planets autistic population and that’s bloody shit-loads!

There is an autistic community where I don’t have to think, ‘Will this freak people out?’ before I ‘speak’ because people get it. Imagine. After ALL these years. I get to be my freaky self and other human beings say, ‘Yeah, I do that’.

AWESOME!!

I’m hoping that the therapy I am currently receiving will help to address the many years where I was treated badly simply for being me..

The girl who walked up to me one day and slapped me across my face for no reason at all? She was a coward. She was a big girl hitting a small girl – a bully who needed to be flanked by her cronies at all times. I blamed myself for so many years but I know now that I wasn’t responsible for what she did. Nor have I ever been responsible for the actions of others. The problem is with them, not me.

At some point I need to let the past go and move on in order to make the most of the time I have left. Four years ago I felt that nobody would ever understand how I feel. Then my son was diagnosed ASD and I knew that I was autistic too. On hearing my own official diagnosis, I got control back of my life. I know who I am now and why I am different and these next years of my life are going to be lived MY way. I may be in a minority but my life counts just as much as everybody else’s on this planet.

It always has.

I still like to be alone because that’s when I function at my best but liking to be alone and feeling alone in the world are very different things. That’s changed now. There are people in this world who get me. There are also people who don’t get me but are willing to understand and support me. So you see, I am not alone in the universe.

CC Image Via Pixabay