Christmas is probably not for most parents with a child who has autism, quite what we thought it would be.
As a child I loved Christmas, my Mum always used to buy us the most wonderful and unusual presents and I can remember the thrill of opening them on Christmas morning. I loved the stocking fillers my Dad found in Covent Garden and Neal Street, I loved Christmas dinner and all the family being together, seeing friends and that general feeling of goodwill to all men, it was a happy time.
As I grew older through my late teens and early twenties the meaning of Christmas was lost, it passed in a haze of over eating, alcohol and hangovers! (I guess (and hope) I’m not unusual in this!) My parents moved to Spain when I was in my very early twenties and we no longer had a family home in this country which meant that Christmas was no longer a family event, we did see each other but it certainly changed things.
And so in my early thirties having my beautiful baby those memories and the magic of Christmas came back and I wanted Zach to experience the happy times I had as a child.
I probably went over the top (some might say I always do!) but I made the house look beautiful, the tree was big and covered in pretty trinkets and baubles and Zach’s pile of presents was like a small mountain. My disappointment at Zach’s lack of reaction at his first Christmas was probably far less than I felt the following year and the year after that….
All those carefully chosen presents and the hope that this year Zach may rush downstairs with excitement etched on his face in anticipation of the gifts he was going to receive and tear the paper off them and play and engage with the treasures he found. It would be fair to say that this has never happened. Obviously the disappointment that this never happened was mine and John’s, Zach wasn’t bothered about presents especially in the early years. In those years our disappointment was huge, it became more and more difficult to find presents that Zach might just like, it was usually very hit and miss and I found myself spending more and more in desperation that he may actually like something!
As the years have gone by we have learnt a lot about Zach (obviously) and what Christmas means to Zach. Although Zach does now like opening presents it usually takes him well into the New Year to finish opening his, this year he didn’t even look into the big red sack which holds his bounty. I did manage though to persuade him to open two presents yesterday 🙂 he was vaguely interested. We realise now that what he really likes are all the little stocking fillers, and although I usually do spend a small fortune we don’t need to. I am going to see if I can get him to open a couple more presents later today.
Christmas certainly hasn’t always been an easy time of year for us and we have still in recent years had tricky festive periods which have certainly not made us feel festive at all.
Christmas has become possibly one of Zach’s favourite times of year. He loves seeing the decorations going up, not because of the sparkles and shine but I think because it signals the start of a time when we are all relaxed and happy and spend quality time together without having to rush off to work or other appointments, he is simply happy for us to all be together. He enjoys seeing family and friends, a room full of people laughing, chattering and smiling. Zach loves people who smile and are happy, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, this is something which makes him very happy.
As a result of Zach’s love of Christmas, even though it has not been what we expected John and I love Christmas. It is a precious time and for all the right reasons.
Christmas for many people who have autism is a terrible time of year. For those who live their lives bound by routine, find it very difficult to socialise and dislike surprises it is very difficult. People with autism often have much heightened senses and so the lights and noise at Christmas can become over whelming to them causing sensory overload, resulting in meltdowns, aggression and more. Some families just do not celebrate Christmas so stringent are the demands of their young persons autism. It can be a time when the different lives we lead are even more pronounced and it can be a very miserable and sad time.
I often think that there is much that we ‘neuro-typical’ types can learn from people who have autism. Material possessions are completely unimportant and although Zach loves technology he isn’t bothered about whether his current tablet or computer is the one with the highest definition, pixels, the colour or cost. He forgives instantly and loves unconditionally. He shows incredible patience when he is trying to communicate what he needs or wants. He is content with so little, just happiness, smiles, family and time.
So for us as a family, Christmas is a very special time. We have changed our expectations (plus Zach is of course now 19) and we know that the presents are way down the list when it comes to why Zach loves this time of year. We still buy presents for Zach, but we know that it will take him a while to get round to opening them, some will be hits and others will be complete misses! But that doesn’t matter, his contentment at this time of year is something money can’t buy and it makes us feel the same way and count our blessings.