I love that fresh feeling you get when Christmas is over. The craziness ends, there’s no more mindless rushing around. People are no longer shoulder barging you to get ahead of the queues in Tesco nor are they taking your legs out with their trolley in a bid to get the last box of mince pies. People are polite, even courteous. Most looking happy and rested.
Your body takes one big sigh of relief, for all the build up over the last few months really does take it’s toll. I’m not entirely convinced it’s the Christmas dinner that leaves you feeling drowsy and spent come Christmas evening, but more so the busy schedule that takes over in the run up before. The Christmas shopping, the dashing here and there to Christmas shows, Nativities and trips to Santa’s grotto. It’s no wonder we all collapse like pigs in blankets when the day is done.
I love Christmas and the way I remember it to be when I was a young girl. Our Christmas differs enormously to the way it was for me back then. Living in an Autism household, I have had to somewhat lower my expectations. Every small step for us is an important one. It doesn’t matter if the day doesn’t go to plan, if it isn’t perfect or doesn’t mirror the way everybody else is spending theirs. Christmas was a tough time for us this time last year, failed attempts to visit Father Christmas, constant struggles at school and meltdown after meltdown. I was very much a confused parent back then, I knew Sonny wasn’t coping but I didn’t know why and I put so much effort and energy into trying to help him fit into our way of doing things.
Progress is progress, no matter how small,
we focus on where we’ve come from, not how far left to go.
Sonny last year was difficult for you, it was difficult for us all. Me and you, we had taken up positions on opposite sides of the spectrum. You were scared and angry, a destructive and defensive little boy. I was anxious and tearful, I didn’t know what to do, who or where to turn to.
We took you to St Francis Church Christmas tree festival last December. It was a particularly dull, wet day and we got soaked walking from the car to the church. You were all excited about seeing the decorated trees and meeting Father Christmas. We reached the entrance and entered the hallway. Our coats were soggy and the heat from the bustling church hall met us almost immediately. We paid the gentleman at the door and picked up a brochure. You became so distressed with all the overwhelming sensory input by this point, dropping to the floor not wanting to go in. I picked you up and carried you through the crowd trying to show you all the trees, wishing you to enjoy some of the festivities. You weren’t having any of it and so begun an almighty meltdown. You screamed murder and you hit out at me. I could feel the eyes of those around us burning into my soul. My head and my heart hurt. I felt hurt for you. I felt hurt for your brothers.
Hindsight is a splendid thing. I feel tremendous mother guilt about that day. I subjected you to something you were just not capable of coping with.
Riley’s reaction was so incredibly grown up. Any ‘normal’ 5 year old child would have lost their mind having to turn around and leave without meeting Santa. Riley looked into my eyes and I looked into his. In that brief moment, there was a mutual understanding. I could have forgotten all about his age. What a fine big brother he was to be so present in his little brothers despair.
We have worked hard to get where we are this year, lots of love, tears and tantrums. (And that’s just me!) This year Sonny got to meet Father Christmas with his brothers. The wonderful team and a member of the PTA at their school made it possible. We were allowed to go to the Winter Bizarre early whilst they were setting up and waiting to open, to have a look around and visit the stalls. This meant there were no crowds, minimal noise and we were relaxed. We were then taken to meet Father Christmas in his grotto. Sonny was comfortable in his familiar surroundings with his family and those who look after him whilst at school. We then went to the small hall where we enjoyed the popcorn machine and dipped marshmallows into the chocolate fountain. We managed a Christmas outing for the first time as a family. I cannot thank those who made that possible for us, and although we were only there for 30 minutes max, it made such a difference to our family.
Christmas itself had it’s challenges but that was expected. It is hard for a child with Autism at this time of year; the lights, the smells, the clutter, the disruption to routine, but Christmas brings more than that. Imagine the overwhelming anxiety that comes with having to open presents not knowing what’s inside? What if it’s not what they had imagined, the right colour or shape. The paper may be glittery or metallic and feel to his fingers what nails on a chalkboard are to others. It takes time and the hypermobility in your fingers causes you to fumble. While some may think it is spoiled behaviour, it is simply a sudden unexpected change. You imagined a blue scooter, but it was a red glittery one. Sonny opened two or three of his presents and then became fixated on what he had opened. Zachary took great pleasure in helping him open the rest. He was like a little Tasmanian Devil arms and paper flying in all directions. Sonny was then seemingly interested in what he had.
We thought long and hard about gifts this year. It’s easy to go crazy and buy lots of toys. We’ve made that mistake in previous years. To make the day a little less overwhelming, we brought things we were sure they would enjoy and make use of. Quality over quantity. It can be quite difficult as Sonny has quite limited interests, cars, dinosaurs, Lego Duplo and Playdough and he has a lot of those. This year we took more of a sensory approach. Sonny’s scooter had broken, so we brought him a new one. He had been asking for a blue one for quite some time. We managed to find a blue one with flashing LED front wheels, just like the Easy X Rider buggy board we use to get to school. Perfect! We also found during our weekend trip to South Kensington, London, a glow art LED drawing board from Hamley’s, which he loved. You can see Sonny playing with the drawing board here. Other things he had were Plasticine, Playdough, another Lego Duplo train so he can add to the one he already has and a Sea Dragon kit.
What I know for certain, is that what really matters this time of year is being around the ones you love means so much more than what’s under the tree.
Nor is keeping with traditions.
We make our own.