Christmas is over for another year. The seemingly never-ending build-up has culminated in a few days of celebration that, for most autism parents, we are simply happy to survive.
Christmas has generally been a pretty upsetting, stressful time for us, and the last few years don’t really hold many happy memories. It’s been full of meltdowns and self-harming (you can read last year’s post here)
Yet, if I’m honest, this year has probably been the best one yet for Jude and Tommy, and certainly quite different.
This year is the first one that me and their mum have been properly separated and living apart. Last year we still owned a house together and spent Christmas Day together with my parents.
Fast forward a year and we each have our own home, and Jude and Tommy find it more difficult to be in each other’s company than ever before.
So, we decided to take a chance and spend Christmas morning all together as a 4, before going our separate ways for dinner. With both of us there it meant that if Jude found it too much one of us could easily take him upstairs and have some time out.
The morning was probably as stress-free as we’ve ever had. I wouldn’t say it was your traditional, kids running down the stairs to excitedly rip open their presents kind of morning, but it worked.
Tommy was up first, and every time I offered him a present he took it off me and placed it back under the tree. He wasn’t interested. It was as if he thought the presents were where they were supposed to be, and I was disturbing his sense of order.
After a while, I began to open one of his presents, and again he took it off me and started back towards the tree, only this time he must have caught a glimpse of something he liked. He caught sight of a Disney character underneath the wrapping and brought it back to me to open.
We opened 2 or 3 presents, and whilst excited by what was in them, it was soon more than enough for him and the rest of the presents remained under the tree.
Jude on the other hand still showed absolutely no interest in the presents. In fact, I don’t think he opened a single one over the 2 or 3 days. I gave him his sensory box of toys when we spent the day together on Boxing Day, but apart from one light up ball, everything else has been ignored or just thrown around a couple of times.
Once the morning was over I took Tommy to my parents for Christmas Dinner, whilst Jude stayed with his mum for the day. Both boys seemed unphased by an increase in the number of people around or the complete change of routine of the day, and we were able to enjoy a relatively normal Christmas Day.
We swapped over on Boxing Day, which became my Christmas Day with Jude, and by keeping everything low-key, we managed to have a fun day. Presents were unimportant, so we spent most of the afternoon out on the trampoline, doing what he loves.
Then, on the 27th, I took Tommy to London for a family get-together. This is not something I’ve tried since Tommy was very young. Jude has always found these occasions difficult, so over time we simply stopped going. But this year things are different, so I thought I’d give it a go with Tommy, and all in all, it went pretty well.
Considering we were at a house Tommy hasn’t been to for a few years, and the amount of people that were there, Tommy handled it really well. It wasn’t the Christmas family party that I imagined, where I’d get to eat and drink with the adults and my kids would go and play with their cousins. They’d tell everyone about the great presents they got, join in with the party
It wasn’t the Christmas family party that I imagined, where I’d get to eat and drink with the adults and my kids would go and play with their cousins. They’d tell everyone about the great presents they got and join in with the party. This just isn’t our reality.
Instead, I had to constantly follow Tommy around like an 18-month-old to try and stop him from climbing up, jumping off, sticking fingers in or breaking things. When I stopped him from doing what he wanted I was bitten, slapped or pinched, all whilst smiling and laughing at me. I lost count of the number of times he spat in my face.
Now all of this can be pretty frustrating when it happens whilst in the privacy of your own home, yet in front of an audience it’s much worse, and can even be embarrassing. Luckily for us, my family totally understand and are free from any judgment when it comes to Jude and Tommy. They knew when to offer their help or when to back off and give us some space. They tried to make the whole day as comfortable for us as possible, for which I love them even more.
Apart from a rocky hour or so, Tommy settled into his routine of shower and bedtime, and by 8:30 was fast asleep, staying that way until 7 am. This meant I was then free to enjoy the rest of the party, get my fill of party food and drink, and just sit down and talk with my family without any distractions.
So all in all, the Christmas period has been a success for our family, and I’m so grateful we seem to have found a way to enjoy it that works. I’m well aware just how difficult Christmas can be, and I know for many of you out there this year was just as difficult.
All I can say is don’t give up.
Three years ago I dreaded the thought of celebrating another Christmas. It held nothing but bad memories, and painful feelings of the traditional Christmas Jude and Tommy were missing out on. Every year since we’ve made small steps forward, and it’s gradually got better. It’s taken some adjustments, changing my ideas of what Christmas should look like, but by doing so we have managed to create one that means both Jude and Tommy are happy.
And what greater Christmas present could I ask for than that?