By asking people with autism or family and friends of loved ones with autism from around the world about how Christmas affects the routines and general calm that a lot of help and support can create in everyday life on Facebook and Twitter, the next week or so will be loved and loathed in equal measure.
Where Joel will be more than happy to play Santa on Christmas morning by giving out presents to loved ones and then enjoying their reactions in Australia, Leonie will be excited in the Netherlands as she will have a break from a Christmas period that usually stresses her out.
Jojo will just be happy to end the stressful build-up and just enjoy the big day in Britain, while Kristi’s son will also be in Blighty but will be joyfully eat cereal in another room. These interesting stories will hopefully bring a hardly unusual fact of autism home!
If you want to try and find two autistic people who are exactly the same, anywhere in the world, you’ll have a big mission on your hands.
Joel’s experiences of worrying about knowing which present to open, to the stage where “he would just take off the wrapping, throw it aside and move on to the next one almost without acknowledgement” in the words of his mum, Veronica, led to her initiating a process where “I (Veronica) learnt very quickly to pack up all his gifts and put them out of sight and give him one to play with and tell him that he had to play with this toy for half an hour” changed his approach.
A traditional approach keeps Jojo happy though as he says: “I love Xmas, but I love my Xmas.
“Going through the stockings. Rearranging the furniture to make room for the second dining table. Dinner, puddings and then my grandad and dad fall asleep watching Casablanca whilst the rest of us tidy up.”
As Joel has grown up, Veronica says: “Preparation is the key, teaching him the social sides like how to react to a gift that he didn’t want such as clothes, taking a moment to enjoy one gift before moving on to the next, and then waiting for others to open a gift before watching their reaction.”
This could show that the unpredictable approach of Christmas is something that can affect an autistic child as normal routine is radically changed.
Louise, a mum of a son who only refers to her son as J, confirms this as she says: “J likes the way things are. Christmas is no different.
“So, if you know someone who has similar challenges, please bear in mind that what you like may not be the same for them. There are ways around things, it’s just a matter of finding, and accepting, what works for you/them.”
During his school days, she goes on to say: “He hated the idea of daily/weekly routine that inevitably came with end of term/Christmas show/party preparations and outings. Surprises are not fun for him.”
Kristi’s son faces a challenge while she says: “We can’t have Santa in our house and don’t even tell our younger children about him because he can’t deal with the idea of a strange man coming into our house.
“This is the result of a picture book from when he was two-years-old of Santa standing at the end of a child’s bed to fill stockings.”
This may sound a little unexpected from the normal concerns, given the love of Santa Claus that a lot of neurotypical or normal children may have but when she says: “Also, while everyone else tucks into Xmas dinner, my son will be sat in a separate room eating dry cereal because he has massive food anxiety and a phobia of sitting at a dining table in case anyone tries to get him to eat.”, his fears seem stronger than usual.
Moving forward to adulthood, such traumatic experiences didn’t seem to affect the way in which Christmas had a profound effect on the people with autism who shared their experiences with me.
Hopefully this will give you a little bit of faith if you are ready to prepare for another festive period with a little one because if anything, it can be something to cherish!
Leonie is a 28-year-old who lives in a residential home. She travels to the family home to spend Christmas with her parents but it something she dislikes. Staying away from her normal routine, friends and carers is a move that she finds tough to handle, but a small change to her plans this year will make her much happier:
“I used to spend the full two weeks of school holidays at my parents house. My mother is a teacher, so she would be with me in the house all of the time. My father was there frequently too, since he works part-time during the Christmas holidays.
“Those weeks were like hell to me. I was homesick and missing my own place and the routine that the house I live in provides. My parents are both typical-ADHD so there were frequent arguments about predictability and sensory issues.
“This year, for the first time in 12 years, I am changing all of this! Instead of two full weeks, I will be at my parents home only for the holidays. It feels a bit odd, to be honest, and other family members got weirdly upset when they noticed I wasn’t about to come home this year. But, even the thought of this change in routine makes me very relaxed.”
Leonie’s thoughts wrap things up perfectly for me. If you have autism, you either love or loathe Christmas and by thinking about what Joel, Jojo, Louise and Kristi think too, maybe that’s the best way to be?
Christmas Day will have a different agenda for everybody but that’s the magic of it!