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Autism and Christmas

Monday, 19 December 2016  | 

Christmas Autism Style

I love Christmas, it is without doubt my favorite time of year. I love the shopping, the music blaring, the decorations and the general chaos that exists everywhere. If I had my way the tree would go up in November, everyone would get hundreds of presents and we'd visit every Santa within a hundred miles.
Sadly, Number One - as with many other children on the spectrum- enjoys the spectacle somewhat less than I do. Whilst there are things about Christmas she enjoys, it's a time that also causes her a huge amount of anxiety.

At Christmas everything changes, normal lessons are suspended and school is taken over by Christmas crafts and preparing for school concerts. There is always concern about the part she is given; too few lines and she feels it's unfair, too many and she worries whether she'll manage it. Then come the rehearsals, break times get changed, the routine is different. At school, outwardly at least, most of the time she copes, but the story when she comes home is often somewhat different. She is anxious, fractious and grumpy; stretched to her limit.

The ‘fake’ (as she calls them) Father Christmas figures that populate our stores and streets are a constant source of anxiety. She detests them with a passion. They are not only pointless but intensely frightening in her opinion. For years she has refused to go near them. The real Santa, she reasons, is far too busy making toys to be among them. Last year in December we were confined to the house, and for years we’ve had to leave events as soon as a Santa appears. This year she is older, we are allowed to go out, but anxiety is still etched on her face. After all, one of the ‘fakes’ may talk to her.

Presents – a joy to so many – are a further source of stress. If you like your room to stay the same, and people (however well meaning) give you large gifts which change the way it looks you do not feel happy. Writing a Christmas list involves making choices that you don’t know how to make. People give you money that you don’t know how to spend.

Then on the day itself visitors turn up at your house. Too many of them arrive. They’re all there at once. They are loud and excited, and they expect you to be excited too. And you are excited, but in your own way. Quietly.

Don’t get me wrong, Number One looks forward to Christmas, and in her own way she enjoy it. It’s just an enjoyment that is intermingled with other feelings. Many children with autism struggle in this way, and even in these days of much greater awareness many children with autism go undiagnosed. So this Christmas if a child reacts in a way don’t expect, or looks ungrateful for a gift , please don’t think badly of them. Instead smile, show them you’re happy and let them enjoy Christmas in whatever way they can.

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