Christmas is a time for fun and laughter, remembrance and prayer. We enjoy the period as if we are all still youg children ourselves, full of expectation. We are in total wonder at the decorated Christmas trees, the sparkling street lights, the carol singing and church decorations, the hustle bustle of Christmas shopping, and even making our own gifts for those special people in our lives.
This rise in festive activity and the surprises, as yet, secret and unknown, can also become a challenge to those with Autism. We have learned a lot over the last twelve months and now we understand that our son does not see and feel the Christmas experience as we do.
Crowds of people all milling about going about their business, noise from music or shouting, even singing and smells like that of warmed mince pies or mulled wine, these all become a blur of sight and sound that make no sense to him and and quickly become a sensory overload. Even the expectation of a surprise to unwrap on Christmas morning can become a frightening experience of not knowing and therefore …… terror!
Meltdowns are not uncommon among those who have Autism, and care needs to be applied to ensure the excitement shared by the rest of us can in some way be shared by them. We have included our son in all plans and purchases, he has seen his gifts already, helped wrap them and put them away and so he knows what is coming on Christmas morning. He will be no less excited, but (hopefully) not fearful about opening something he is not prepared for. The beauty of this, is that we can now include the odd small suprise too, as his focus will be on the main gifts that he is prepared for. He has joined me in shopping in good time when it’s quieter, to select the food we will eat and drinks we will drink and we have written up a menue with pictures so he knows what to expect when we eat our Christmas dinner.
Our son is 30. Please don’t think that just because a child becomes adult, then all challenges like Autism and Learning disabilities just stop. They don’t, and in many ways, they become far more difficult to support.
If you know someone who has Autism, or other Mental Health condition, please don’t judge them harshly if they behave differently than you would expect at Christmas or other celebratory event. Surprises to them can very easily create significant fear of the unknown and the basic human ‘Fight or Flight’ behaviour may kick in. Keep calm, take time to listen to them carefully, talk in simple clear words, don’t ask questions, but direct them calmly and allow them time to come to terms with whatever has alarmed them. They will recover. Do not fear them, or complain about them, love them unconditionally and support them completely and you will all have a very Merry Christmas. Remember always, that any adverse behaviour you may experience from them, is not personal, and they are unable to change how they are feeling, it is we that have to create a suitable environment for them to enjoy it as much as ourselves.
Merry Christmas everyone and thank you for following our journey, I hope you have been able to take something, no matter how small from the journey we have been on to help in your own journey.