The Teenager That Santa Forgot..

One year, Santa forgot me.

It’s true.

To be fair, I wasn’t a small child. I was a teenager.

So how did I come to be left off Santa’s list?

It was 1985. The year of the first successful heart transplant, Windows 1.0, The Golden Girls, The Breakfast Club, Live Aid, Take on Me and wearing your jacket sleeves rolled up Miami Vice style..

I was:

Fifteen. Teenager. Vegetarian. Knew Everything. Annoying.

I don’t remember how I came to be vegetarian, I just know that from 14 I declared myself a meat free zone. I lived on cheese, as 80s vegetarian options looked (and tasted) like Trill. Thank God for Linda McCartney, eh? Problem was, Mum never did understand the concept of vegetarianism. She gave me cheese in place of meat but then poured gravy over it which kind of defeated the object..

Maybe it was hormones combined with my undiagnosed autism (and copious amounts of cheese) but my teenage years were funked up and not in a good way..

I’d argue that black was white and I’d do it with a PASSION. Not content with being meat-free, I terrorised everybody else for being ‘murderers’. Dad took it all in his stride. He thought it was hilarious, but Mum was suffering from the menopause (or rather we were suffering from her menopause) and that particular year she and I clashed more times than a pair of cymbals.

By Christmas, I was struggling. Doing the social thing exhausted me mentally and physically. Going out took hours of stimulating myself with rock music and days of recovery time afterwards. Every time I convinced myself it would get easier but it never did because exposure only works with shyness and I wasn’t shy. I was autistic.

That year I’d asked ‘Santa’ for loads of records including The Cult’s ‘Love‘. I’d been borrowing my mate’s LP but she was pissed off with it spending more time on my record player than hers, so I was looking forward to getting my own copy. Gimme a whoop!

Christmas Eve

We were allowed to lie on the sofa watching films all day and the jar of Quality Street was ceremoniously opened. It was a good day and in the evening Mum challenged her inner Hyacinth Bucket (It’s Bouquet) and did a candlelight supper, which was V posh.

I felt very grown up.

I was even allowed wine. SHHHHHHHH!

Dad was on the Jack Daniels.

Brother was semi-pissed on Southern Comfort.

Mum was on the Stella (I’ll fight you and everyone else) Artois.

Everyone was happy.

Until it went tits up..

I don’t remember what I said, exactly. Maybe it was something about meat and murder again? I just know that I opened my big mouth and said something that had my mother slamming the louvered doors off their hinges as she flounced off into the kitchen.

In my confused mind, ONE thing registered.

SHIT!

Dad was rolling his eyeballs.

Brother was smirking at me.

Elvis was crooning Blue Christmas in the background.

My mother was turning the air blue in the kitchen in-between nose blowing sessions.

Tentatively, I inched my way into the war zone but took one look at her face and knew that grovelling was futile. She looked like Alice Cooper, only with red eyes. Even in my limited understanding of body language, I knew my best (and only) option was bugger off upstairs and leave Dad to smooth things over.

So I went to bed and endured one of the most miserable nights of my 15 year old life.

What, in the name of Ian Astbury, had I said to incur SUCH a reaction?

I still don’t know.

All I know is that I was forever being reprimanded for ‘showing off’.

Showing off?

Er, I’M AN INTROVERT?!

In hindsight, I know that the Christmas Eve fiasco wasn’t ALL down to me. I blame Stella Artois and lack of oestrogen. Stella because it always made my mother do the crying thing and lack of estrogen put her on a permanent hair-trigger. It could have just as easily been my dad or my brother who said something to upset her, eh?

But it wasn’t them.

It was me.

Mostly what got me into trouble were my meltdowns. I’d become overwhelmed, therefore out of control, and it was interpreted as me being a little shit – as so often is the case with autism.

Nobody knew I was autistic.

Not even me.

Christmas Day

I unenthusiastically wished Jesus a happy birthday and prayed that he’d put in a good word with my mother overnight and she’d forgiven me for “ruining Christmas”. I lay in my miserable pit until I heard sounds of life downstairs, then slowly made my way down into the kitchen where Mum was perched on her stool puffing away on a Silk Cut. She narrowed her eyes at me. This look meant, ‘Approach me NOT. I’m still pissed off with you!’.

I slunk into the living room..

There, lit up in all it’s magnificence was our faux Christmas tree and underneath it were three piles of presents.

One for my brother.

One for my dad.

The third pile was my mother’s.

FUCK!

Didn’t say fuck – obvs -my life was hanging in the balance as it was.

For the first time in my existence, Santa had forgotten me.

I’D MADE THE NAUGHTY LIST.

THE SHAME!

Mum looked weird. Sort of angry and sad at the same time and that’s quite a hard one to pull off!

Brother was still smirking. That litle shit positively basked in my misery!

Tears slid down my face.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sorry for myself in all my life.

Dad couldn’t take it anymore. He looked at Mum and said, “You’ve made your point Flo. Come on now. It’s Christmas”

Mum snorted and flip- flopped upstairs in her new mule slippers.

A few minutes later she appeared with my presents.

She went from angry to misty eyed in a matter of seconds and hugged me so hard I thought she’d busted my lung.

“And let that be a lesson to you, Madam!”

Despite having no literally NO idea what this lesson was supposed to be, I chose to keep my trap shut.

Maybe that was the lesson?

Ordeal over, I started ripping into my pressies with the finesse of a three year old on E numbers.

My first gift?

It was Love.

When I tore off the wrapping paper that Christmas morning in 1985, I had no idea that 32 years later, the lyrics to the title song would have such significance to my very existence on this planet.

I guess you could say that I’ve spent most of my life in the ‘wrong hole’?

Now don’t go and ruin this moment by thinking rude thoughts about holes? *serious face*

I mean ‘wrong hole’ as in trying to be neurotypical.

Spent a long time in this hole
Spent a long time in the wrong hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Summertime Blues

On the day I was born THIS was number one in the Top 40.

“Have a drink, have a drive”

Have a crash?

Side-burns and demijohn as a percussion instrument aside, it is a catchy tune, but I’d rather have hung on in there for a few more weeks and slithered out to Elvis Presley’s The Wonder of You. Then again, it could have been Tom Jones’ Daughter of Darkness, which some light say, would have been more apt.

It was summer. The days were long. The jeans were flared and summers seemed to go on FOREVER, as happens when you’re on child-time because child-time is different to real time. Everyone knows that, right?

The skies were bluer. The clouds puffier and the sun cracked the pavements EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Then there were family holidays..

I’m fairly sure we went away most years but I only remember a few holidays and judging by sulky chops on most of the photographs, i.e. me, I can only imagine that I was my usual shit self during each and every one of them. I can only apologise to my parents who no doubt sacrificed all year in order to give us a nice holiday. If they were alive today, my autism diagnosis would maybe go some way to explain my behaviour…

I tried hard to enjoy holidays but being in unfamiliar places (and sleeping in strange beds) sent my anxiety orbital. The beds often smelled funny and had, er, unidentifiable stains, and at that time my olfactory sensitivities were monumental. Also, I couldn’t verbalise my problems so this reflected in my behaviour. I was either ‘showing off’, ‘naughty’ or ‘moody’. Moody, I’ll hold my hand up to but I wasn’t ever intentionally naughty and I was too introverted to ‘show off’. What I was, was overwhelmed…

It also pissed me off how flies used to do that circles round the light fittings. Why do they do that? Daddy Long Legs were much bigger when I was a child. They. Were. HUGE. Spiders were the size of COWS and the world was against me in general. Despite all this, I was supposed to enjoy myself?

Sometimes we stayed in B & B’s. I HATED that. It was bad enough being in a strange place with my own family without having to cope with being around strange people too? Strange sociable people who really annoyed me with their constant, “Are you going to give me a smile?’

No. Eff off.

I didn’t say the F word, obvs, as Mum would have ended my life, but I certainly thought it. Why couldn’t they understand that I looked miserable because I FELT miserable?

Then there were the days out..

If I was lucky there would be a plan and I’d know where I was going (sort of) but more often than not Mum and Dad did the ‘spontaneous thing’ which cremated my brain. The result?

This.

Beach days were the worst.

What child doesn’t like the beach?

Me.

I like it now (when it’s empty) but not then. Never then..

I considered it a breach of my human rights to be made to take my clothes off on a beach in front of strangers.

“Who do you think’s looking at you?!”

Well, I don’t know, Mother, perverts perhaps?

To be fair, most children stripped off without a care in the world but I wasn’t like them was I? I was a self-aware misfit. I refused to remove so much as a sock without Mum standing in front of me with the biggest bath towel we had and even then I tried to keep my knickers on under my bikini bottoms. Yes, I was that girl.

One bikini in particular stands out in my memory. I was about 4 or 5 but it was way too big for me. In those days, you had to grow into stuff so nothing fitted. The top was more like a scarf and the bottoms were saggy-arsed which was dead amusing, apparently. The relief when I was upgraded to a swimsuit was IMMENSE!

The whole beach experience was an onslaught to the senses. The smells. The noise. The stimuli..

We had a little Calour Gas stove and I liked the smell of the gas. Possibly inhaled more than what was healthy for me, though. Then there was Ambre Solaire which Mum and Dad slavered over themselves. They’d sit and sizzle in their deck-chairs, havin’ a smoke and drinking countless cups of tea and be in some kind of heaven while me and my brother whinged like buggery – him because he was stuck with his moody little sister and me because I wanted to be sand free and back HOME with my Enid Blyton’s.

I feel guilty about it now because Mum and Dad worked hard to keep us fed, clothed and living in a nice clean home. They deserved a nice holiday but I always managed to spoil it for them, not that it was EVER deliberate.

When it comes to weather – THAT summer of 76 overrules all other summers in my entire memory.

In the Summer of 76, the average house cost £12,704. Wages were about £72 p/w (in those days they came home via a brown envelope) and a loaf of bread cost 19 pence. 19p!!! You could get a huge bag of sweets for like 5p. Imagine that, Kids?!

It was, like, SOOOOOOOO hot, the tarmac on the roads melted. Google it!

Chopper bikes, Space Hoppers, Quosh (warm), water shortages, IRA bombings, unemployment, flares, platform shoes, white dog poo, really great music, really shite music, melty roads and deviant DJs. The 70’s had the lot. I don’t remember the serious stuff because I was just a kid. What I do remember is how uncomfortable I felt in general. Summer is supposed to be fun but it’s not that simple for sensitive souls is it? Plus, I have to remove my cardi, which is like asking an NT to remove a kidney.

Dare I say, roll on Autumn?

“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”~ George R.R Martin ~ Game of Thrones