The Christmas cake is done, the mince pies have been made (and eaten), cards have been posted and presents have been hidden around the house. And now the lounge has been transformed into a vision of cosiness. The tree is decorated and the fireplace is draped in a mock ivy and berry garland. Whilst it all looks very festive and lovely I’m just not feeling in the mood for Christmas at the moment.
I know I’m probably not alone in feeling like this. Like a lot of other parents, Christmas with autistic children can be extremely difficult. The change in routine, the anticipation of presents, school festivities as well as the explosion of lights, colours and noise in town can be too much for my children to cope with. As a result they struggle to regulate themselves which leads to difficult behaviour and constant arguing. Its tiring for them and tiring for me too.
We have done everything we can to reduce known triggers – avoiding social events, not going to town, using visual supports to prepare for change but quite simply unless I lived on an island devoid of communication with the outside world we have no chance of escaping Christmas. It’s everywhere. From the adverts on the telly urging us to spend, spend, spend to the corny tracks on the radio it is hard to avoid the pressure to create the perfect Christmas. It’s not that I hate Christmas, I actually quite like it. What really gets me though is how the build up to Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier every year which means I have to spend weeks managing two very exciteable autistic children. It’s hard work on top of which there are also the ordinary household jobs to do plus the christmas shopping, cooking and all the other things that have to be done at this time of year. No wonder we feel so tired and stressed.
If the capitalist side of Christmas isn’t bad enough there are then the school activities to deal with. For my daughter’s mainstream school, it’s manic – a carol concert, school plays, a fete and a party are the norms at this time of year. Unfortunately my daughter can’t cope with the public nature of the events and neither can she cope with the noisy and crowded parties and discos. As she has got older she has become more aware of her difficulties and now refuses to join in. As for my son, he is not in school so he doesn’t have to worry about participating in anything. Whilst it’s probably a huge relief for both my children not to be part of the Christmas festivities, I can’t help but feel sad at not sharing such occasions with my children. I sometimes hear other mums and dads talking about their children’s plays and concerts and I feel a tad envious that I can’t enjoy something similar with my own children.
But instead of focusing on what I can’t do I am going to concentrate on the things I can enjoy. Being together as a family is the most important thing and having my husband at home instead of him working all hours is something to look forward to. And if we can get through Christmas day without a meltdown then I’m sure we will also enjoy opening our Christmas presents and sharing our Christmas lunch together. We may even enjoy a family game, watch some telly together or scoff chocolate whilst the Queen talks to the nation.
The point is Christmas will be our Christmas and not the stereotyped version in the false adverts that flood our television screens at this time of the year. You know the sort of adverts: smiling, happy people dressed in glitzy clothes partying and eating nibbles whilst the well-behaved children look on. My family Christmas will be nothing like that. Instead my family Christmas will have its difficult bits, the arguments, the tantrums, the slamming doors, but it will also have its good moments and its those moments that I intend to treasure.
Hopefully by thinking positively about what Christmas means for me and my family, I can start to regain some of that festive spirit and start to look forward to Christmas Day.